Researchers share preliminary results of finds of AltEn environmental impacts

Thursday night, people were invited to a meeting hosted by those working through UNMC, UNL, and Creighton University about what they’ve found.
Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 11:26 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - About a year after the AltEn ethanol plant in Mead was shut down for good, people are getting a first look at the research being done on pollution in the area.

Thursday night, people were invited to a meeting hosted by those working through UNMC, UNL, and Creighton University about what they’ve found.

One of the biggest takeaways from Thursday night’s meeting is there’s still a lot to learn. Researchers are gathering baseline data on the effects the pesticide-treated seed corn might be having on humans, wildlife, and the environment.

In water, they’re looking for both original and degraded versions of the product. In total, they found 13 of the 21 versions they were looking for in water samples taken from various sites that feed in and out of areas near the plant. The levels are below what the EPA would find concerning, but further studies are still needed.

“I would say that the levels in the water now are at least ten if not 100 times lower than what we worry about for people, but as I think you know Johnson Creek reservoir doesn’t have any life in it,” said Dr. Ellie Rogan, the Head of the Environmental Program at UNMC. “And while we couldn’t prove definitively that it’s from the AltEn contaminants because we never had any samples before to test, it’s a pretty good assumption that it’s because of these chemicals that it’s gone biologically dead.”

They are also actively studying bees, birds, and tadpoles which could show signs of pesticide impacts. Right now, many of those are still in the research process and in labs to be tested. They have seen a few preliminary signs and results in bee populations.

“The plants shut down in February of 2021 and so this represents the bee losses from June through September and we’re actually seeing better survival rates or at least fewer bees being found in these dead bee traps,” said Dr. Judy Wu-Smart with UNL.

UNMC is also hoping to get a health registry started in Mead to better track adverse health effects that have been reported and to see if they’re tied to the AltEn plant. It said so far they’ve had significant interest from people. They even had a return of about 300 out of 1000 surveys sent out, which researchers called unheard-of response levels.

Right now this project has about $ 1 million in ARPA funding but researchers say they’re hoping for more to continue doing it for a longer amount of time.

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