A troubled ethanol plant near Mead that uses chemically treated seed corn has been ordered to shut down until it can dispose of excess, contaminated wastewater generated by the facility.
On Thursday, the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy issued an emergency order to AltEn, the operator of the plant, to immediately cease discharges into its wastewater lagoons, saying that the company was "likely to cause and may have already caused" pollution of the air, land and water.
The department's order said that inspections of the ethanol plant's three lagoons on Monday indicated that all were holding more wastewater than permitted, and that liners on two of the lagoons were badly damaged and had not been repaired, as required by a state order in 2019.
The company was ordered to come up with a plan within 30 days to dispose of the excess wastewater, which had unsafe levels of pesticides and fungicides used to coat the seed corn. In the meantime, AltEn was ordered to cease any additional discharges into the three lagoons, which average 100,000 gallons of water a day, to prevent the wastewater from overflowing the lagoons.
Messages left with officials at AltEn were not immediately returned on Friday afternoon. Previously, officials have not responded to questions, but instead provided a company statement that it is cooperating with state officials to resolve its compliance issues.
The state's emergency order said the contaminated wastewater was "known to leach and may contaminate groundwater." It added that based on the "high levels detected," the wastewater could harm bees, birds and animals.
In September 2019, the state environment agency first ordered AltEn to halt disposing of the wastewater on farm fields due to the high levels of contamination.
The facility has been given until March 1 by the state to remove the huge piles of leftover grain. In the meantime, the Nebraska Legislature is considering a bill to ban the use of treated seed corn in the production of ethanol.