Research Monitors Impacts of AltEn Pesticide Contamination

With essential support from the NWC, a multi-university team is monitoring one of Nebraska’s worst environmental disasters. In 2021, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Creighton University partnered with UNL and NWC to explore the scope of contamination stemming from the AltEn ethanol plant near Mead, Nebraska.

When the plant opened in 2015, it represented an innovative way to generate ethanol from feedstocks consisting almost entirely of leftover seed corn treated with pesticides and fungicides. Treated seed is not unusual; but using it in large volumes to produce ethanol is. Over time, area residents became concerned as fish, bees and house pets fell ill or died. Residents reported strong odors in the air, burning eyes and breathing difficulties. In early 2021, the State of Nebraska shut down the plant after numerous violations and a burst pipe spilled waste into a nearby watershed.

The human health impacts are unknown. Measuring the extent of contamination within the surrounding land, air, water and animals is the first step and where NWC enters. WSL, part of NWC, is the primary destination for all water and soil samples collected through this research. A committed group of students and full- time technicians operate its high-precision equipment using sophisticated methods. Additionally, NWC awarded a USGS 104b grant (p.8) to an entomologist studying the impact on pollinators.

According to Shahab Karimifard, a UNL postdoctoral researcher collecting the project’s data, the team will continue to monitor all aspects of the environment affected and have more decisive results in the near future.

What emerges from this collaborative investigation will help answer critical questions – for both the people of Mead and future communities exposed to pesticide contamination. What’s in our water? What does this mean for our health?

View more information about Nebraska’s AltEn research.