Monday, March 2, 2009

Lisa Jackson puts a tough lesson to good use

Life serves up some tough challenges. Successful people not only survive the challenges but examine the lessons to be learned from them. Wise people put those lessons to good use.

The Environmental Protection Agency's new administrator, Lisa Jackson, displayed such wisdom today in announcing that her agency and its state partners will begin conducting more extensive air quality analyses at schools across the country, especially those in urban areas and located near large industries.

The new EPA initiative won't come as a surprise to anyone in New Jersey where memories of the Kiddie Kollege debacle are still fresh.

In 2006, Jackson, then new to the job as Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, ran into a political and public relations firestorm when it was disclosed that some south Jersey parents had unknowingly enrolled their preschoolers in Kiddie Kollege, a daycare center housed in a building that had formerly been used to manufacture mercury thermometers.

The parents didn't know that their kids were being exposed to mercury and the folks who ran the school apparently didn't know about its former use. Unfortunately for the DEP, some staffers there did, or at least had. The building had come to the Department's attention some years prior but for some unexplained reason had fallen through the bureaucratic cracks and off a list of sites requiring more active attention.

When the story broke, parents understandably went ballistic, local politicians followed suit and Jackson found her self on the hot seat trying to explain how it all had happened and what the agency was doing to fix the problem.

The furor eventually died down when DEP ordered the building closed and demolished and began implementing health tests for all Kiddie Kollege students and teachers. The tests showed elevated levels among some children but no serious health threats.

The former owner of the building is now facing legal action and legislation aimed at preventing similar cases is making its way through the state Assembly.

Some administrators would be happy to have such an unpleasant experience behind them.
To her credit, Lisa Jackson is putting it to good use.


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