Seed Companies Announce Working Group for AltEn Contamination

June 10, 2021, 5 p.m. ·

Seed Companies Pledge Support To AltEn Cleanup Efforts
Six former customers of the AltEn ethanol plant in Mead, which once made ethanol from pesticide-treated seedcorn, have formed a working group to pay for and plan cleanup of the facility's pollution. (Photo by Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy announced on Thursday six former suppliers of the AltEn ethanol plant in Mead are pledging to address ongoing pesticide contamination by the facility. The company once produced ethanol using seedcorn treated with pesticides, boasting contracts with around 100 seed companies.

The AltEn Facility Response Group, including large agricultural corporations like Bayer, Syngenta, and Corteva, applied to the Nebraska Voluntary Cleanup Program. In a statement, NDEE said the state-run program allows private entities to plan and pay for environmental remediation efforts. That means any remediation stemming from the program would not be funded by taxpayers, a major concern cited by Mead’s community.

The announcement comes after calls from residents for transparency on how years of pollution stemming from AltEn’s use of treated seedcorn will be cleaned up. Jody Weible, a longtime resident of Mead, said the announcement is welcome news.

“I'm just excited that maybe something really is going to be done, and the nightmare could be over soon,” Weible said. “It's the first plan of action we've seen, so I am very encouraged.”

If accepted into the program by NDEE, the group will draft a remedial action plan laying out short-term remediation measures. That plan would be subject to public notice and comment. In the announcement, NDEE wrote the remediation plan could be used as a model for long-term cleanup efforts at and around the AltEn plant. The state-run VCP program has overseen other high-profile cleanups in Nebraska, including the Arasco lead plant in Omaha and the Haymarket District of Lincoln.

The group of seedcorn companies is already working to contain and treat millions of gallons of pesticide-laced wastewater at the AltEn plant, containing chemicals in the tens of thousands of parts per billion. The group has constructed three 3.5 million gallon holding tanks for the wastewater at the plant, and has plans to build another six.

On the group’s application to the program, applicants noted the site contains potential soil, surface water, sediment and groundwater contamination. Regarding whether contamination at the site poses an immediate risk to human health, the environment or drinking water, the group marked “unknown”.

NDEE shut AltEn down in February after years of environmental violations, including not maintaining their wastewater lagoons, missing environmental records, and illegally storing around 84,000 tons of highly contaminated wetcake, a byproduct of the ethanol process, on its property. Just days after its closure, one of the plant's waste digesters leaked a 4-million gallon mixture of pesticides and manure across the area.