After residents’ hairs were raised about bothersome smells they trace to an active landfill run by a state agency, Kearny’s chief executive is making a bigger stink about the situation.

In a Facebook posting last week, Mayor Alberto Santos declared: “I think we identified the source of the sulfurous odors from the Keegan landfill [at Bergen Avenue and the Harrison Turnpike].

“Based on DEP (N.J. Department of Environmental Protection) inspection reports, photos and video, it’s illegal dumping of liquid sewage sludge.”

But a spokeswoman for a state-funded environmental regulatory body cautioned against jumping to such conclusions, saying the results of that body’s checking out residents’ complaints were inconclusive at best as to the source of the odors.

And a spokesman for the landfill owner, the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority, challenged the mayor’s characterization of the dumping incident cited in his posting as misleading.

In his posting, Santos goes on to say that the NJSEA “has even denied access to inspectors, but allowed trucks with the illegal sludge entry to the [landfill]. This has to stop! The [NJSEA] is either grossly negligent or willingly complicit. … The persons at the [NJSEA] responsible for overseeing operations at the Keegan landfill must be held accountable. We will not let up!”

The mayor invited residents to “continue to call the DEP (877-927-6337) and Hudson Regional [Health Commission] (201-817-9844) each time the sulfurous odors are detected.”

Included as part of his posting was a pictorial and video display of a truck unloading what appears to be some type of liquid discharge on the site of what the mayor has labeled the Keegan landfill.

The Observer emailed the mayor and asked for more specificity about the allegations. In his reply, Santos said: “At this point, I can’t discuss the details of the illegal dumping captured in the images and video that I posted on my social media page.

“There have been instances where NJSEA employees at the site have denied access to both DEP and Hudson Regional although they have also allowed them on the site at other times.”

The mayor added that the landfill “lacks any air permits for its venting system.”

NJSEA spokesman Brian Aberback said Santos “is broadcasting a video of an inspection that took place in summer 2018 by the NJDEP. Issues regarding that inspection have been rectified. In addition to Type 13 (bulky waste such as appliances and furniture) and 13C (construction and demolition materials), the Keegan landfill is permitted to accept waste classified as ID 27 (defined by DEP as dry industrial waste, including “nonhazardous oil spill cleanup waste, dry nonhazardous pesticides, dry nonhazardous chemical waste and residue from the operations of a scrap metal shredding facility.”)

“Recent inspections by the NJDEP conducted in November 2018 noted that [Keegan] was in compliance with DEP regulations,” Aberback said.

Still, NJDEP records show that during several inspections made last year, the DEP cited Keegan for three statutory violations: non-compliance with solid waste disposal rules, violation of permit conditions by receiving unacceptable wastes and failing to cover exposed solid waste surfaces with a 6-inch cover of compacted clean soil at the close of business.

DEP inspectors found “litter control issues … particularly on the side slopes” at Keegan during February, April, May and November 2018 and on one undated site visit, discovered a truck from the North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority “dumping a liquid sewage sludge material” which Keegan classified as ID 27 waste but which DEP’s Bureau of Solid Waste Permitting and Bureau of Pretreatment & Residuals listed as “not ID 27.”

The landfill operators were directed to “stop accepting this material from any treatment plant.”

According to the DEP report, because all problems were remedied, no penalties were levied.

“We’re aware of the odor complaints,” DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said. “We’re investigating.”

Just last week, Aberback said, inspectors from DEP and Hudson Regional checked the landfill in response to odor complaints and, “we have been informed that no violations were found …”

Were inspectors ever turned away at Keegan?

Yes, said Hudson Regional deputy director Angela DeQuina. It happened on New Year’s Eve when an HR inspector was turned away at the gate 10 minutes before closing time. For that action, NJSEA has been fined $8,000, she said.

Between May 2018 and Jan. 11, 2019, the Hudson Region hotline logged a total of 47 odor complaints including an unknown number of repeat calls, DeQuina said. Inspectors have been hard-pressed to trace the origin of the odors, she said, because the rotten-egg-type smell reported by callers — and detected by inspectors — was typically “faint and fleeting” and quick to dissipate shortly after their arrival.

But in hopes of improving inspectors’ chances of pinpointing the source, DeQuina said Hudson Regional has acquired a meter, at a cost of $19,000, designed to measure — in parts per billion — traces of hydrogen sulfide, defined by as “a water-soluble, colorless gas with the distinct odor of rotten eggs [which is] produced from sewage sludge, liquid manure hot springs and natural gas.”

Exposure to high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can cause nausea, headaches, loss of balance, skin and eye irritation, unconsciousness or death.

Another possible source of the smells, DeQuina said, could be the landfill’s leachate collection system.

Kearny has been battling the NJSEA since 2016 when the authority — which (through its predecessor agencies) had been leasing the 100-acre-plus dump — took over the property through eminent domain. The town had expected the landfill would be shut down — with the NJSEA paying for closure costs — and the site converted to passive recreation and/or a solar farm.

The town sued — it even went as far as to seek a Writ of Certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court unsuccessfully — but lost.

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