MEAD, Neb. (KMTV) — Jody Weible says her health problems began in 2015, the same year the AltEn Ethanol plant moved into her lifelong home of Mead.
“I have coughed for three years solid,” she said. “I’m allergic to mold, and those piles are full of mold.”
The plant was ordered to shut down in late February. But, about a week later, a four-million-gallon digester tank began leaking wastewater onto the ground, near the University of Nebraska research facility. This prompted the State and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) to file a lawsuit in March.
Since the plant opened, Weible said she’s smelled a horrible odor around the town. She asserts that the plant’s byproduct — grain treated with pesticides before use — is to blame. According to the State, AltEn is one of only a few ethanol plants in the country that use treated seed in the production process.
“It will burn your nose,” Weible said. “It will make your eyes water. It will take your breath away. It will make you cough. It is the worst thing I have ever smelled.”
AltEn sold its grain as a soil conditioner, something used to promote fertility. According to the State’s lawsuit, a test by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) found high levels of pesticides in the conditioner.
“I heard a farmer over by Wahoo…had a pile on there that hadn’t been spread yet,” said Bill Thorson, chairperson of Mead’s village board. “I was told that nothing has grown there for two years.”
Katie Dommel and her family moved out of Mead in 2018. She said that’s when her family’s respiratory issues disappeared.
“Our daughter had nose bleeds at least once a week,” said Dommel.
AltEn had been ordered to stop storing grain byproduct on its property. When the State first notified the plant of this order, 26,000 tons of distiller’s grain was recorded onsite. During their most recent inspection, NDEE reported about 84,000 tons of distiller’s grain, almost triple the original amount.
“I want all that stuff gone,” said Weible. “I don’t want them to go bankrupt, and leave it for Mead, because Mead can’t afford to clean it up.”