LINCOLN — State environmental officials on Friday were monitoring an early morning wastewater discharge from an ethanol plant near Mead that had been ordered to close a week ago because of concerns about pollution of air, water and land.
About 2:30 a.m., the AltEn ethanol plant reported an accidental discharge from its facility caused by the bursting of a frozen pipe at a digester that contained thin stillage and cattle manure, according to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy.
The agency, in a brief press release, said it is “aware of the ongoing situation, had personnel onsite today, and is continuing to actively monitor conditions at the site to protect public health and safety.”
Personnel at an adjacent University of Nebraska-Lincoln agricultural research, extension and education center noticed increased flow Friday in a stream that traverses the 9,663-acre facility and identified it as effluent being released from the plant.
After consulting with the Department of Environment and Energy, research center staff contained the escaping effluent using plastic sheeting and a round hay bale to block a culvert, though some effluent continued to seep through, according to Cara Pesek, a spokeswoman for the research center.
Pesek said it was not immediately clear whether any research efforts had been affected.
The spill is the latest problem confronting the AltEn facility, which, unlike other ethanol plants, uses leftover seed corn to produce ethanol. The seed corn is coated in pesticides and herbicides, making the leftover distillers grain unfit for livestock feed. Such distillers grain from ethanol plants that use field corn is a prized feed for cattle.
AltEn is under order by the state to dispose of its leftover grain by March 1, either via disposal in a licensed landfill or incineration. A week ago, the plant was ordered to close because its wastewater lagoons were in danger of overflowing and contaminating nearby property and waterways. The state also said AltEn had failed to repair torn liners in the lagoons, as ordered months earlier.
Plant officials did not respond immediately to requests for comment on Friday but said earlier in the week that they were working to resolve the lagoon problems.
AltEn’s leftover grain, left in rotting piles around the plant, has been the subject of several complaints by nearby residents about rancid odors, possible health impacts and the potential for groundwater contamination.
All the bees in colonies on the UNL property recently died. But it is not clear whether that could be directly connected to the ethanol waste, which contains neonicotinoids, insecticides that have been linked to deaths of bees and birds.