Current property owner Jim Sullivan Inc., former owner the Navillus Group, and other “Sullivan Defendants” are liable for costs related to the cleanup and removal of mercury discharged by a thermometer-making factory located on the property before Sullivan bought it and leased it for use as a day care site, Superior Court Judge Anne McDonnell ruled.
Previous property owner Philip J. Giuliano and the now-defunct thermometer manufacturing company he owned, Accutherm, Inc. are also being held responsible.
All defendants share a total liability of $2.04 million for the Kiddie Kollege property remediation, but Giuliano and Accutherm are liable for an additional $4.09 million because they failed to comply with a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) directive that they clean up the original contamination caused by their unlawful discharge of mercury at the site.
“This is a very significant legal win for the people of New Jersey, and for our environment,” Hoffman said. “It is only fitting that the original polluters – as well as those who bought the property from them and leased it to others without doing their homework -- are held accountable.”
“In New Jersey, we hold firmly to the principle that those responsible for cleanups should be held liable for the cost of that work,” Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said. “This ruling holds particular significance because this pollution so directly impacted children and their families. Today, the DEP, the New Jersey Department of Health and local agencies work closely together under a state law passed as a direct result of Kiddie Kollege to protect our children in day cares and schools.”
Kiddie Kollege ceased operations in 2006 after the DEP and the Department of Health and Senior Services determined the building in which it was housed was not fit for occupancy, based on air and surface samples that found unacceptably high levels of mercury throughout the building.
A naturally-occurring element, mercury is toxic to humans when inhaled or ingested. The building has since been razed.
Sullivan had acquired the building at a tax sale. He then leased the building to the operators of Kiddie Kollege. Kiddie Kollege was then opened in 2004.
Throughout its two years of operation, it provided day care services for children ranging in age from eight months to 13 years.
McDonnell rejected assertions of non-liability by the Sullivan Defendants, noting that the mercury contamination “could have been discovered by research of historical use, or examination of the DEP’s contaminated sites list, or by following their attorney’s advice to engage an environmental professional to assess the property before proceeding to foreclose the tax sale certificates.”
McDonnell also determined that Giuliano, as the lone shareholder, CEO and corporate officer of Accutherm, directed his employees on how to handle and dispose of mercury during the company’s operation, and also was solely responsible for the decision to shut down the business “and abandon the unremediated property.”