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NJ Schools Development Authority Acts to Protect from Mercury in Floors

The New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA) will be requiring a certification from manufacturers of rubberized and/or urethane floors installed on SDA projects ensuring the floor does not contain phenyl mercuric acetate (PMA) or other mercury catalysts. These floors, which continue to be identified in New Jersey schools, have been installed since the 1960s. This flooring, and items that have been in contact with it, emit harmful mercury vapor indefinitely.

Mercury vapor can damage the central nervous system, kidneys, lungs, skin and eyes and is especially harmful to young children and fetuses. Studies show that children with autism have an even harder time excreting toxic metals, further increasing the health risk.

The additional certification from manufacturers is necessary as Safety Data Sheets and date of installation are not determining factors in identifying whether or not a floor contains mercury. The floors release odorless, colorless mercury vapor. The only reliable way to determine whether a floor contains mercury is to test using bulk sampling and an accredited laboratory.

Since 2017, Healthy Schools Now and partners NJ Work Environment Council and the New Jersey Education Association have worked closely to raise awareness regarding the dangers of rubber-like polyurethane floors that were installed using a mercury catalyst.

This spring several contaminated floors were found in Gloucester County, NJ, many of which are being removed this summer. It remains unclear how many of these floors exist in New Jersey schools. Rubberized flooring needs to be tested in order to rule out toxic exposure.

“The New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA) is committed to building healthy, safe schools in the State of New Jersey and will be imposing a requirement to obtain a certification on future rubberized and/or urethane floors installed on SDA projects,” said Manuel Da Silva, SDA interim chief executive officer. “This requirement will be imposed on our most recent advertisement for Perth Amboy High School, which is the largest procurement undertaken by the SDA to date.”

“We are extremely grateful to Manuel Da Silva, interim CEO of the SDA for his commitment to ensuring that these hazardous floors will not be installed in any new project the SDA oversees,” said Heather Sorge, campaign organizer for Healthy Schools Now. “Our New Jersey staff and students deserve to learn and work in schools that are contaminant free and healthy.”

NJEA’s officers, President Marie Blistan, Vice President Sean M. Spiller and Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty praised the move: “We are very pleased that the SDA has implemented this important measure to protect the health of students and school employees. We have worked hard alongside Healthy Schools Now to raise awareness of this danger and make sure that it is eliminated. Every student deserves a safe, healthy learning environment and this is an important step forward.”

“We applaud the SDA for taking this important measure to ensure children and school staff are not being exposed to mercury hazards from floors installed on future projects. We will continue to advocate for non-SDA Districts to follow the lead of SDA and begin requiring similar certifications,” Debra Coyle McFadden, executive director, NJ Work Environment Council.

“New Jersey parents are thankful that the SDA is addressing the issue,” said Trisha Sheehan, national field manager for Moms Clean Air Force and New Jersey resident. “As a parent to school-aged children, I need to know that when I send my kids to school every day, that I am not exposing them to potent toxins….”

Healthy Schools Now is a coalition of over 60 organizations representing a diverse set of stakeholders including public school advocates, parents, social justice, faith leaders and environmentalists who are dedicated to ensuring that all New Jersey children and school employees learn and work in a safe, healthy, modernized school buildings.