There are 17 million reasons why the State of New Jersey has not closed the Keegan Landfill off Bergen Avenue yet, Kearny Mayor Alberto G. Santos says. And yet, all it would take for Gov. Phil Murphy to do so is the stroke of a pen.

But the mayor says he hasn’t heard from the governor — and he’s alarmed by the state’s and the Hudson Regional Health Commission’s lack of candor over the clear reality that the odors Kearny residents keep smelling are from the landfill.

“They have not been transparent,” the mayor said in a phone interview last week. “They will say they’re looking into the cause of the odors, but they’ll say they’re understaffed. It’s the best explanation they can provide.”

Over the last few months, since the state and county agency has been less than forthcoming, according to Santos, the town itself has set up one testing station of its own — and plans to set up yet another.

ALSO READ: EDITORIAL: Governor Murphy, close the Keegan landfill

It is believed hydrogen sulfate is what is causing the rotten egg-type smell that anyone who has been in Kearny the last few months could likely say they’ve smelled. An acceptable level of hydrogen sulfate is anything up to 30 parts per billion (ppb).

On one day of testing recently, the readings varied from 82 ppb to a staggering 248 ppb, the mayor said.

These high readings could lead to health problems for residents, including including the ability to breathe properly.

So how is it possible the governor and other environmental agencies have still not acted upon countless phone calls to a complaint hotline set up to take residents’ complaints about the odors — and despite numerous media reports about the issue?

“The governor’s staff is likely not sharing with him yet the information about the calls,” Santos said. “If you were to ask the governor about the situation at the landfill, he’d likely say he’d looking into it and would get back to you.”

Despite these obvious setbacks, Santos says he and his colleagues on the Kearny Town Council will not back down until the landfill is closed. He says he hasn’t spoken directly with the governor as yet, but if he attends any events where Murphy is present, he will gain his ear.

“We will not let this go,” he said. “This is a public health and environmental health crisis. It is interesting that the governor’s own attorney general has sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency over other environmental issues. Maybe it’s time for New Jersey to look in the mirror and say ‘Look at yourself New Jersey. Look at what you’re doing to the environment.’”

While the state continues to drag its feet — neither the EPA nor the Hudson Regional Health Commission have yet to admit precisely where the odors are coming from — Santos is encouraging all residents who are able to attend the next meeting of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, the entity that runs Keegan, to do just that, at 10 a.m., March 21, in Lyndhurst, at 1 DeKorte Park Plaza.

“We’ll probably get lip service from the commissioners but they don’t live here and don’t know Kearny,” the mayor said. “Maybe one of the commissioners has ever been to Kearny or knows the town.

The President and CEO of the NJSEA, meanwhile, is Vincent Prieto, of Secaucus, who for many years represented Kearny in the 32nd District of the State Assembly.

So what if the governor does close the landfill?

Perhaps the biggest unanswered question remains — what happens next if at some point, the governor does the right thing and orders the Keegan closed?

It may be hard for long-time residents to fathom this, but it was 14 years ago, in 2005, that the agency then responsible for the landfill, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, proposed using the land for passive recreation. At the time, Santos says, the NJMC (which was usurped by the NJSEA since) believed it was environmentally sound to do just that.

Imagine letting your kids go to a playground now on what was once the Keegan Landfill?

“They would have to do environmental tests now to determine whether that would even be feasible now,” the mayor said.

Still, without a permanent closure plan in place, it all comes back to one thing, he says.


Some $17 million a year the state gets to allow dumping here still.

“They’ll say it was a good thing (the landfill was available) when (Super Storm) Sandy debris had to go someplace,” Santos said. “But there are other places to dump.”

Oh, and what about that video the mayor posted to his social media page a few weeks ago that showed a truck illegally dumping at the landfill?

“Records show it was the North Bergen Municipal Utilities Authority,” though the truck wasn’t marked and there was no way to tell whether it really was from that agency, the mayor said.

When asked if he confronted North Bergen Mayor and Kearny’s State Sen. Nicholas Sacco on the matter, the mayor said Sacco told him “didn’t know anything about it, but doubted it was” a truck from the senator’s North Bergen home base.

Finally, at last week’s meeting of the governing body, the Council voted, 9-0, to advise the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, via petition, to investigate hydrogen sulfide levels at the dump. The agency is an investigative subdivision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It has no decision-making power, but it can make its findings public.

To contact the NJSEA, call the administrative office at 201-460-1700 or send an email to If you believe the odors reach an “emergency level,” call 866-927-6416. Reach the Hudson Regional Health Commission by phone at 201-223-1133 or by sending an email to You can also reach the office of Gov. Phil Murphy by calling 609-292-6000. You may also reach Murphy electronically at

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, an organization he has served since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and X, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to Kearny to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.