For years, the people of Mead, Nebraska, have worried about the ethanol plant that moved into their small rural community a little over a decade ago. They feared the terrible smells and odd illnesses in the area might be connected to the plant and its use of pesticide-coated seed corn in its biofuel production process.
Those concerns recently turned to outrage and anger after environmental regulators were forced to acknowledge that under their oversight the AltEn LLC ethanol plant has been contaminating the area with an array of pesticides at levels much higher than what is considered safe.
The contamination has been ongoing for years, exacerbated through accidental spills and leaks of the plant’s pesticide-laden waste, which has been stored in poorly maintained lagoons and piled into hills of a putrid lime-green mash called “wet cake”. The company had also distributed the waste to area farmers for spreading across fields as “soil conditioner”.
It was only earlier this year – after media reports exposed the problems – that state officials ordered the plant to close, and began efforts to clean up what many in the community see as a sprawling environmental disaster.
The state attorney general’s office then sued the company for multiple alleged environmental violations, citing “an ongoing threat to the environment”, and late last month Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill restricting the use of pesticide-treated seeds for ethanol production.
Residents of Mead say the crackdown on the plant is welcomed, but, in many respects, is far too late. The lingering impact of the pollution won’t simply end with the new law, nor will many of the industrial agriculture practices that caused it. Instead, the pollution continues to wreak havoc and there are fears that Mead’s trauma may be repeated in other small towns across the state where large-scale industrial agriculture practices continue.
A highly anticipated first-ever trial pitting a group of farmers against the global agricultural giant Syngenta AG over allegations that Syngenta’s paraquat weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease has been delayed again and may not take place at all, according to sources close to the case.
The trial in the case of Hoffman V. Syngenta was scheduled to start June 1 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois before Associate Judge Kevin Hoerner. Previously it was set to begin May 10, and prior to that it had a trial date in April.
The cancellation of the June 1 trial date came amid speculation that the parties are deep into settlement talks. No new trial date has yet been set, according to a St. Clair County Circuit Court clerk.