Nebraska town hit with hazardous stench from local ethanol plant

Residents in Mead are furious as the smell has lingered for years -- scaring businesses away and potentially contaminating the air and water supply.

MEAD, Neb. (KLKN) – An ethanol plant in Mead is facing backlash from residents and state agencies after filling the town with a rancid smell for months.

AltEn has racked up violations from the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) for close to three years – some have been resolved, others haven’t.

The issues stem from the type of corn the plant uses.

“Nobody knew to make sure it was field corn they were going to use, so they use seed corn that’s no longer viable. The seed corn is coated in poison,” says Judy Weibel.

Public records from the NDEE show the seed corn used by AltEn is treated, and through testing, documents show that chemicals and pesticides harmful to humans, mammals, birds and more, have been found in the mash that’s leftover from the ethanol production process. Typically, that mash is fed to cattle – but not here.

Weibel has lived in Mead since the 1980s and recently retired from her role as a planning commissioner, in which she served for 24 years.

She wants the problem fixed.

“It’s frustrating because to me it should be simple,” she says.

The mash from the plant, just blocks away from town, has been left in a big pile and is leaving a rancid smell. During the cold winter months, the smell is subdued. Weibel says the plant has also started covering the waste in dirt.

“For the first year they spread it in the fields and labeled it a ground conditioner,” Weibel says. “If they put it on too heavy things would not grow.”

NDEE reports show that AltEn failed to provide proper information and testing for the mash to allow for proper disposal processes. So now, it sits. Many, including the NDEE and EPA are concerned it could cause health problems. Residents are, too.

“They’re stockpiling thousands of tons of this stuff with no plastic barrier, no cement, just right on the ground. It doesn’t take rocket science to know that that’s going to leach into the aquifer and take west Omaha, Gretna, Ashland, Lincoln. It’s one of the largest aquifers around. Once its contaminated, what do you do?”

Weibel is hoping the issue gets resolved before that happens and before the smell scares people away.

“We’ve had people come in to look at a house that was available to buy or rent, and it’s been a bad day for odor, and they say ‘we can’t live here, it stinks.'”

Before her retirement from the planning commission, Weibel says she introduced new legislation in Mead that would block ethanol plants from using seed corn instead of field corn.

She’s reached out to Nebraska state senator Bruce Bostleman, who she hopes will introduce similar legislation that will be implemented statewide.

According to a notice of violation from the NDEE on January 30, 2020, AltEn has until March of 2021 to rid of the waste.

Channel 8 News reached out to the plant’s general manager, Scott Tingelhoff, but has not received a response.

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