MEAD, Nebraska- For a visitor to this rural part of eastern Nebraska, the crisp air, blue skies and stretch of seemingly endless farm fields appear as unspoiled landscape. For the people who live here, however, there is no denying that they are immersed in an environmental catastrophe researchers fear may impact the area for generations to come.
The signs of a silent poisoning are everywhere: A farmhouse has been abandoned by its owners after their young children experienced health problems; a pond once filled with fish and frogs is now barren of all life; university researchers are collecting blood and urine from residents to analyze them for contaminants; and a local family now drinks water only from plastic bottles because tests show chemical contamination of their drinking well.
It has been just over a year since state regulators stepped in to close down the AltEn LLC ethanol plant on the outskirts of Mead, Nebraska that was found to be the source of massive quantities of toxic, pesticide-laced waste. The waste spilled and spread throughout the area, including into waterways that provide drinking water for people and wildlife.