Chemicals discovered in groundwater 30 miles west of Omaha

Source: By Julie Cornell, KETV • Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Emergency monitoring wells detect pesticides from AltEn ethanol plant

There’s a crisis at the former AltEn ethanol plant, according to data collected by monitoring wells placed on the property recently.

Samples from one test well near a leaking lagoon show chemicals in the groundwater above EPA standards for drinking water. One environmental watchdog group notes that some levels of pesticides and fungicides were found in 8 of the 9 test wells.

“I think it’s definitely a very important alarm bell going off and if we wait until a lot more reaches that groundwater we’ve got a lot bigger problem,” said Creighton University biologist Dr. John Schalles, a member of the environmental group, the Perivallon Group.

The AltEn site was shut down more than a year ago amid environmental concerns. For six years, the company created ethanol using pesticide treated seed corn. The state and seed corn companies are suing AltEn for improper disposal and use of the product.

“It would take some time to get off site and into areas where other people have wells,” said Schalles.

Schalles said it’s unknown if the chemicals have spread beyond the property and that more testing needs to be done. Lagoons on property hold more than 180 million gallons of contaminated water.

The state noted that levels in one wastewater lagoon have dropped 5 feet since last fall, indicating a leak in the liner.

Bill Thorson, Village of Mead Board Chairman, said the state told him that contamination in the aquifer travels very slowly, about a foot per year, and that it probably will take a very long time to travel beyond the property. Still, Thorson said, remediation crews are scrambling to remove liquid from the wastewater lagoon which has shown signs of leaking for months.

The lagoons stored wastewater left over from the process of creating ethanol from corn covered in pesticides, a practice now banned in Nebraska. Several seed corn companies are paying millions of dollars to shore up the environmental contamination on site until a final remediation plan is developed. The state has not asked that the site be named a Superfund Site.

KETV NewsWatch 7 reached out to NDEE for comment on the groundwater test results and we are waiting for a response.