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Monitoring group calls for additional studies and funding to discover possible adverse impacts of AltEn plant

By: - June 21, 2022 5:41 pm
AltEn ethanol plant

The AltEn Ethanol plant south of Mead, Nebraska, is now closed. It is subject to a clean-up order from state environmental regulators. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A volunteer watchdog group said Tuesday that recent, preliminary findings about the extent of contamination caused by the now-closed AltEn ethanol plant points up the need for continued studies and funding of research efforts. 

“These initial findings are a bombshell that certainly underscore the need for further scientific examination of the breadth and scope of this catastrophe,” said Al Davis, spokesman for the Perivallon Group, an informal monitoring committee.

Town hall last week

On Thursday, a team of scientists from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Creighton University released some initial research findings during a town hall in Mead, which sits just north of the AltEn plant.

While several tests await analysis, the findings included:

  • Pesticide residues were discovered in one private home near AltEn.
  • Thirteen of 21 chemicals associated with AltEn’s use of pesticide-coated seed corn were found in a flood-control reservoir nearly five miles from the plant.
  • Bee colonies maintained nearby by UNL were still showing adverse behaviors.

Davis, a former state senator, said the findings call for additional testing at schools, churches and more private residences. He urged Mead-area residents to allow testing of their homes and property to aid the research and to participate in a health-monitoring program to track any adverse health impacts.

Additional funding

The Nebraska Legislature, earlier this year, allocated $1 million toward continued research by the university scientists, who have been volunteering their time and using a private donation to finance testings. Davis said that funding will only last one year, and he urged state lawmakers to extend funding.

Scientists have said it may take a decade to measure the true extent of any contamination or health impacts.

The AltEn plant garnered national publicity after it was revealed that ethanol was being produced there with pesticide-coated, expired seed corn, rather than the field corn used by other ethanol plants.

The residue left after the ethanol production, called “wet cake,” was found to have high levels of pesticides still present. Huge piles of the wet cake accumulated at the plant after land-application of the wet cake ended and landfills quit accepting the waste, leading to complaints about foul odors from the plant. 

Plant ordered closed

After AltEn refused to dispose of the wet cake or make repairs to wastewater lagoons, and after a pipe burst, unleashing a millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater, the facility was ordered closed by state regulators in February 2021. The state also sued the Kansas company that owned the plant, alleging multiple violations of environmental rules.

A group of seed corn companies have been funding a cleanup effort at the plant since then. A report on the final disposal of the wet cake is expected next month. 

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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