Ethanol plant escapes fines for dumping

By Mike Linn

Scientific test results show an ethanol byproduct spill in Melrose in mid-September contaminated the area’s soil, forcing a local ethanol manufacturing company to clean up the mess.
High Plains Ethanol officials dug up the soil and disposed of it at a licensed landfill and received no fines for the mishap, said Christina Kelso, a scientist for New Mexico Environment Department’s Groundwater Quality Bureau.
“The company understands that they are not allowed to discharge byproducts from their process in this manner, so if they do it again they would be doing it knowing the law,” Kelso said.
Kelso added that the company could be fined if it happens again.
Wendell Bostwick, an employee at High Plains Ethanol in Portales, apparently dumped the thin stillage into the ditch in an effort to eradicate portions of prosperous grass, said Chris Standlee, vice president of High Plains Ethanol corporate office in St. Louis.
One of the byproducts found in low levels of the soil was thin stillage, which contain nitrates that can be hazardous if consumed in amounts higher than 10 milligrams per liter by pregnant women and small children.
But Standlee said byproducts found in the soil couldn’t harm drinking water.
“This is a benign product, it’s not hazardous and we know that there’s no damage,” Standlee said. “This stuff is land applied everywhere where there is an ethanol plant, but at the same time we also recognize that we have to comply by the rules and certainly it was an oversight on our part …”
Standlee said Bostwick was disciplined for the mistake and still works with the company.
On vacation, Bostwick was unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Standlee added that everybody within the company now knows the law about dumping byproducts into the soil.
“Believe me everybody at each of our plants knows, and they should have known before, but it’s all over the place now,” Standlee said.