Six U.S. seed companies join in, pay for clean up at troubled Nebraska ethanol plant

Six seed industry giants have formed a coalition to help clean up millions of pounds of contaminated seed and liquid waste produced by a Nebraska ethanol plant. A representative for one of those companies says “Nothing anybody can say is going to make the current situation okay.  A lot of things went wrong.”

Mark Bowers with Bayer tells Brownfield the company sent treated seed for disposal to the AltEn ethanol plant under contractual obligations that the plant would dispose of the seed within environmental standards.

He says the plant violated the contract and now the seed companies are left to clean up the mess. “We at Bayer intend to do our part as part of this and we’re looking forward to and are gratified that we’re part of a group that’s going to help the state address the challenges at the site and at Bayer we believe we have a responsibility to be part of the solution for the people of Mead and the agriculture community in general.”

The companies, which include Corteva Agriscience, Syngenta, AgReliant Genetics, Beck’s Superior Hybrids and Winfield Solutions, call themselves the AltEn Facility Response Group because they sent treated seed to the plant, which created contaminated feed stock such as distiller’s grain or wet cake.

Bowers says it’s too early to determine how long the cleanup will take or the cost, but the priorities include: “Drawing down the lagoons and managing the wet cake because it currently exists. The two aspects to that are preventing any rainwater from hitting it and then any storm water that happens to contact those materials making sure that’s adequately controlled and managed,” he says.

On Thursday, the coalition applied to the Nebraska Voluntary Cleanup Program which allows third parties to assume responsibility for environmental cleanup efforts at no cost to state taxpayers. The plan must be approved by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy.

The AltEn Ethanol plant shut down in February following state action and the town of Mead revoked the plant’s conditional operating permit last week. Nebraska is also the first state to ban ethanol plants from using treated seeds.

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