On Saturday, April 27, 2019, over 300 residents held a protest demanding that the State of New Jersey close the 100-acre Keegan garbage landfill in Kearny. Residents with signs, vests and masks, marched down Bergen Avenue to the landfill’s main entrance. For the past year, residents have been complaining of noxious odors from the landfill, which is owned and operated by the State of New Jersey through its agency the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
At the protest, Mayor Santos led residents in chants asking Governor Phil Murphy to shut down the landfill. He also noted the history of misrepresentations by the State of New Jersey. In addition to rotten egg odors of hydrogen sulfide, there has been verified illegal dumping of liquid sewage sludge, a breach in the landfill’s leachate wall which protects the adjacent freshwater marsh from contamination, and the failure to obtain air venting permits from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The Keegan Landfill is used to dispose of construction and demolition waste. When rainwater mixes with components such as gypsum sheetrock, naturally occurring bacteria convert the sulfate extracted from the gypsum into hydrogen sulfide, also referred to as H2S, which is noted for its noxious rotten-egg odor. According to the State Department of Health, at levels of 30 parts per billion (ppb), H2S can pose chronic health impacts, such as nausea, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, and, for individuals with respiratory problems, difficulty in breathing. In February, the Town of Kearny acquired air monitoring stations and placed them on municipal property approximately 500 feet from the landfill’s western perimeter. In just 2 months, the Town registered over 30 separate instances of H2S in excess of 30 ppb, most recently early Sunday morning, April 29th.
According to Mayor Alberto G. Santos, “The State of New Jersey continues to fiddle while serious health impacts from hydrogen sulfide have been found at the Kearny landfill. Because the State is the owner and operator of the landfill, they must take immediate action to close it and properly clean up the site with a gas collection system and an impermeable cap over the entire surface to eliminate H2S emissions.”
The landfill began operations in the 1950s but by the mid-1970s had become inactive. It was re-opened by the State of New Jersey in 2009 for the purpose of capping and closing the landfill with construction and demolition debris. The State promised that by 2016 the capped landfill would be turned back to the Town of Kearny for the construction of a golf course and recreational fields. In 2016, the State refused to turn back the landfill to the Town and used the power of eminent domain to take legal title and continue landfilling operations. Waste companies pay the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority to dump at the site and those fees generate over $25 million a year for the State agency.
According to Mayor Santos, “There is no amount of money that compensates for harm to our health or our environment. We want this closed by the Governor and we want offending parties held accountable, even if they are an agency of the State of New Jersey.”
(Photos by Barbara Goldberg)