UNMC-Led Group Monitoring AltEn Pollution Says It's Still Concerned

Nov. 5, 2021, 3:30 p.m. ·

The AltEn plant in Mead, Nebraska with a dirt road in the foreground.
The AltEn ethanol plant opened in Mead, Nebraska in 2015 and closed in February of 2021. (Photo by Gabriella Parsons, Nebraska Public Media)

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The head of a group of scientists studying the potential after-effects of contamination at the AltEn biofuels plant in Mead, Nebraska is concerned a clean-up plan for the area won’t go far enough.

Dr. Eleanor Rogan with the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health leads a group 13 scientists and health officials from UNMC, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Creighton University and area health departments. The group has tested water and the air around the AltEn plant, which produced ethanol using pesticide-contaminated seed corn until it closed earlier this year. Several major leaks led to the closure, and a plan put together by seed companies to clean it up was released this week. Rogan said she’s still concerned about huge piles of ethanol byproduct, called wetcake, still on the property.

“I’m not sure what’s going to keep things from still, if there’s a big rain or snow event, from getting carried off in the runoff from the property, which has been a big concern,” Rogan said.

Part of the remediation plan is to cover some of those piles so wind can’t blow the material around. It also includes plans to remove pesticides from water in lagoons on the property just south of Mead. Despite the ambitious plan, Dr. Rogan said she doesn’t expect much change in risks for the nearby community.

“I think it will continue to be a health problem and we are doing our best to get into position to at least monitor this so that we can perhaps bring some efforts to bear on getting things speeded-up in terms of taking care of the problem,” she said.

Her group has finished with water sampling in the area and is waiting for the results. They also plan to launch a health survey in and around Mead to see if residents are experiencing unusual health issues.