UNMC Researchers to Tackle Contamination Study Around AltEn Plant in Mead

April 5, 2021, 2:28 p.m. ·


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A group of researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health will begin a study to see if contamination from an ethanol plant in Mead, just west of Omaha, is affecting the air, water and even humans.

The AltEn plant is about five miles west of the Platte River and is at the center of a controversy over whether pesticide-coated seed corn used in the ethanol production process is contaminating the air and water around Mead. UNMC researchers, led by Dr. Eleanor Rogan, who heads the Department of Environmental, Occupational and Agricultural Health, will start a study to see if the plant is indeed contaminating the area as some residents suspect.

“We thought this was important because we think it’s a big public health need for the state that somebody look at this and gather the facts about what is actually happening,” Rogan said.

The plant is facing a lawsuit by the state for alleged contamination and is still cleaning-up huge piles of the waste product of the seed corn, known as wet cake. At least a dozen UNMC researchers will begin the study this month.

“Our project includes doing analysis, collecting samples of the air, which has dust in it from the surrounding area around the plant and then also doing the same kind of analysis on surface water, like water that’s running in creeks or ditches or streams,” Rogan said. “Eventually we’ll look at ground water to see if the compounds have been seeping into the groundwater.”

She said they’ll also study the soil, animals that live in the area, survey local residents and even analyze hospital stays to see how the air and water around Mead are affecting resident’s health. She said the outcome could include recommendations on how to mitigate the contamination if the study finds it’s a problem.

There’s an informational Zoom meeting on the study Tuesday evening at 5:30.