Mother whose children attended Kiddie Kollege day care testifies they now have health issues

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Jamie Kahana Franks and her husband, Drew, who had two children at the former Kiddie Kollege day care in Franklinville, listen to court proceedings.

Jamie Kahana Franks tears up when she describes how the uncertainty still worries her, more than four years after the tainted Kiddie Kollege day care in Franklinville was shuttered.

Franks' daughter was 4 and her son was 2 when they were enrolled in the neighborhood day care in early 2004, more than two years before New Jersey inspectors found the building had high levels of mercury vapors.

Since then, the children have exhibited some behavioral and "medical issues" that Franks believes could be linked to breathing the vapors in the Gloucester County building.

"I have a great pediatrician who's on top of things, but there are things that have happened that are open-ended," she said, declining to divulge her children's health issues. "You wonder, 'Are they missing something?' "

Franks testified Wednesday in a Superior Court trial that began two weeks ago in Woodbury to determine whether nearly 100 children should receive long-term medical monitoring and who should pay for it.

She is party to a class-action lawsuit that seeks to establish a fund for children who attended the day care, which opened in February 2004 in a former thermometer factory.

The real estate broker who acquired the abandoned building has testified that he misread reports and assumed the building had been cleaned up before he leased it to the day care.

The lawsuit blames the factory owner, the broker, and various government agencies that failed to enforce cleanup orders and that issued permits for the building conversion.

Franks, whose landscape-design company went out of business, leaving her without insurance, said she did not have money to pay for neuropsychological testing and other examinations that monitoring could cover. The children's father, her ex-husband, also lost his job and is uninsured, she said.

Mercury vapors can cause brain, central nervous system, and kidney ailments. Among the symptoms are tremors, seizures, rashes, behavioral issues, and retardation.

"I really don't know if mercury is the cause of the things my children have," Franks said after she got off the stand. But she would like to have testing done to find out "if they have a clean bill of health, that there's no more mercury in them, or if there is something going on, what preventative measures can be taken."

Medical experts who are scheduled to testify disagree about the necessity of long-term testing.

Attorneys for the town, county, and state governments note that the state Department of Health tested the children's urine after the building was closed. Health officials found elevated levels of mercury, but when the levels dropped to normal weeks later, the officials determined the children were not likely to develop long-term problems.

Their experts are expected to say those tests were adequate, but the families' experts are expected to say urine tests are not a true measure of the children's exposure to mercury.


Contact staff writer Jan Hefler

at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com.