The newest owners of the site of a former Gloucester County day care center closed because of mercury contamination are responsible for $1 million in cleanup costs, an appeals court has ruled.

Thursday's ruling overturns a lower court decision in 2009 that voided the tax-lien sale of the former Kiddie Kollege site in Franklin Township because the pollution was not disclosed. The appeals court ruling stated that a sale could not be voided because tax-sale law states that the purchaser is responsible for all risks and facts that affect property value learned after the sale.

State officials shut down Kiddie Kollege in 2006 after high amounts of mercury were detected inside the building at Delsea Drive and Station Avenue. Hundreds of children and adults who had been in the building were potentially exposed to mercury vapors, which is a neurotoxin that can cause developmental delays in children.

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A thermometer factory owned by Accutherm operated on the site from 1984 to 1992. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in 1994. Several years later, Franklin Township sold the property at a tax sale to Navillus, a company made of members of the Sullivan Family, including James Sullivan.

Sullivan and the company argued that the township should void the tax sale, reverting ownership to Accutherm, because they did not know the site was polluted. A lower-court judge agreed.

The appellate court, however, reversed that ruling, saying that voiding the tax sale would force another several years of property-tax loss to Franklin Township, which was the reason the property was sold at a tax sale in the first place, the ruling stated. Additionally, it stated that the Sullivans should have been aware of a possibility of contamination because of a statement in the tax sale that the property was once industrial, as well as a 1995 "EPA mini pollution report" sent by the township to the Sullivans about high mercury levels found on the property.

The Kiddie Kollege site has since been demolished and cleaned up by the state Department of Environmental Protection using public money. There also have been numerous civil cases alleging day care employees and children were injured by the mercury exposure.

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