Stabilizing environmental risks at Mead proves difficult


Bill Thorson loves his small town in Nebraska. He has lived in Mead since he was three years old and has multiple concerns about the massive cleanup of the old ethanol plant. “Everything that’s going on there worries me a bit,” Thorson said. depollution of the former AltEn ethanol plant. The state shut it down last February after numerous environmental violations. The plant is accused of using pesticide-treated corn seeds to create ethanol and then contaminating the earth with dangerous chemicals. “If anything, we’re safer now than we’ve ever been,” Thorson said. “It’s the only thing I really like about our village. We pull ourselves together in situations like this,” he said. Thorson works full-time in construction and never imagined his part-time position on the board would mean overseeing Nebraska’s largest hazardous site to date. “When you’re on Mead’s board, you don’t deal with those kinds of things. You get – someone put their fence in the wrong place,” he laughed. Thorson served as a intermediary between citizens, the media and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy. The NDEE declined to speak to the media, lawmakers or environmental experts, directing citizens to a portal of Complicated public records for information on cleanup and defunct plant AltEn faces 7 lawsuits from seed companies and the state of Nebraska for improperly handling hazardous waste over six years of operation State spokespersons said the lawsuit prevented them from speaking about anything related to the property.Thorson said stabilizing the site to prepare for the cleanup took more than a year and that it is painfully slow out of caution. “The last thing they want to do is create more trouble,” Thorson said. Thorson was upset that some accused the state of not properly monitoring the site and not issuing the permit to use pesticide-treated corn. “They didn’t give them a permit to pollute. They gave them a permit to make ethanol,” he said a group of seed company volunteers are preparing the site and cleaning up the immediate environmental hazards for the property. Currently, two lagoons on the property have broken liners and could be leaking chemically contaminated water. A lagoon has 9 toxic gas bubbles under the liner. The goal is to eventually treat 180,000 gallons of contaminated water on site. In the fall of 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency took air samples in Mead and found no human health concerns. About 60 private water wells were also tested and two of them showed traces of pesticides found at the AlEn site. “They said it would be like taking a dropper and putting a drop in an Olympic swimming pool,” Thorson said, referring to the amount of chemicals detected. The volunteer cleanup team has already spent $3,000,000 to build a lagoon at the AltEn site to hold water that has been treated on site. They also operate a water treatment system with carbon filters to remove chemicals and have a state permit to release the clean water onto farmland. are tested by 6 laboratories across the country. Scientists are trying to figure out the combination of chemicals in the samples so they can safely remove the mess. At this time, it is unclear who will pay for the cleanup plan. AltEn owners have yet to come forward to help with the cleanup. “I wouldn’t be shocked if it was $100,000,000. I wouldn’t be shocked at all,” Thorson said. Thorson said two options are on the table for eventually destroying the corn byproduct that spans 16 acres. He said it will either be transported to landfills or incinerated on site. Thorson said the byproduct is considered “hazardous” and non-toxic, allowing it to be transported to landfills. Last month, crews covered the pile with a product called Posi-shell, a cement-fibre barrier that will prevent rainwater from touching the pile and creating even more runoff. Thorson said the shell is a temporary solution until a suitable plan is developed.He said there was no feasible way to put a liner under the pile to prevent groundwater contamination. 16 hectares? says Thorson. He said to watch for the unveiling of the plan in May or June, and then the state will seek public comment on the proposal. “Let’s make sure this never happens again. Let’s find a way to clean it up,” Thorson said.

Bill Thorson loves his small town in Nebraska. He has lived in Mead since he was three years old and has multiple concerns about the massive cleanup of the old ethanol plant.

“Everything that’s going on there worries me a bit,” Thorson said.

As chairman of the Mead Village board, he oversees the cleanup of the former AltEn ethanol plant. The state shut it down last February after numerous environmental violations. The plant is accused of using pesticide-treated corn seeds to create ethanol and then contaminating the earth with dangerous chemicals.

“If anything, we’re safer now than we’ve ever been,” Thorson said. “It’s the only thing I really like about our village. We pull ourselves together in situations like this,” he said. Thorson works full-time in construction and never imagined his part-time position on the board would mean overseeing Nebraska’s largest hazardous site to date.

Thorson said Mead’s municipal water supply is safe and is tested daily as they have a brand new treatment plant.

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Mead has a new municipal water system which is tested daily. The chairman of the village council said the water was safe.

“When you’re on the board of Mead, you don’t deal with that kind of stuff. You get – someone put their fence in the wrong place,” he laughed.

Thorson served as an intermediary between citizens, the media, and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy. The NDEE declined to speak to the media, lawmakers or environmental experts, directing citizens to a complicated public records portal for information about the cleanup and the defunct plant. AltEn faces 7 lawsuits from seed companies and the state of Nebraska for improperly handling hazardous waste over six years of operation. State spokespersons said the lawsuit restricts them from talking about anything related to the property.

Thorson said stabilizing the site to prepare for cleanup took more than a year, and it’s painfully slow out of precaution.

“The last thing they want to do is create more trouble,” Thorson said.

Thorson was upset that some accused the state of not properly monitoring the site and not issuing the license to use the pesticide-treated corn.

“They didn’t give them a permit to pollute. They gave them a permit to make ethanol,” he said.

A group of seed company volunteers prepares the site and cleans up immediate environmental hazards to the property. Currently, two lagoons on the property have broken liners and could be leaking chemically contaminated water. A lagoon has 9 toxic gas bubbles under the liner. The goal is to eventually treat 180,000 gallons of contaminated water on site.

In the fall of 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency took air samples in Mead and found no human health concerns. About 60 private water wells were also tested and two of them showed traces of pesticides found at the AlEn site.

“They said it would be like taking a dropper and putting a drop in an Olympic swimming pool,” Thorson said, referring to the amount of chemicals detected.

The volunteer cleanup team has already spent $3,000,000 to build a lagoon at the AltEn site to hold water that has been treated on site. They also operate a water treatment system with carbon filters to remove chemicals and have a state permit to release the clean water onto farmland.

Thorson said that right now, water samples as well as samples from the huge pile of corn by-products at the site are being tested by 6 labs across the country. Scientists are trying to figure out the combination of chemicals in the samples so they can safely remove the mess. At this time, it is unclear who will pay for the cleanup plan. AltEn owners have yet to come forward to help with the cleanup.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if it was $100,000,000. I wouldn’t be shocked at all,” Thorson said.

Thorson said two options are on the table for eventually destroying the corn byproduct that covers 16 acres.

He said he will either be transported to landfills or cremated there. Thorson said the byproduct is considered “hazardous” and non-toxic, allowing it to be transported to landfills. Last month, crews coated the pile with a product called Posi-shell. It is a cement and fiber barrier that will prevent rainwater from touching the pile and creating even more runoff. Thorson said the shell is a temporary solution until a proper plan is developed. He said there was no feasible way to put a liner under the pile to prevent groundwater contamination.

“Would we have had more problems if you tried to move the pile and put a liner underneath? Where do you go without it contaminating another 16 acres?” says Thorson.

He said to watch for the unveiling of the plan in May or June, and then the state will seek public comment on the proposal.

“Let’s make sure this never happens again. Let’s find a way to clean it up,” Thorson said.

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