If you take route Illinois route 30 west, you will eventually run into the Mississippi river. Just across the bridge, is Clinton, Iowa. Home to various Native American tribes at different times, primarily Algonquin and Sioux nation tribes, it was once a very prosperous area rich in wildlife and forest, and more prairies west of the river. After explorers of various nationalities scouted this area, American colonies began to spread west. During the later 1800′s, during a period I like to call The Great Tree Rape, it was a very busy lumber town, with sawmills that killed many people with unsafe practices, and loads of river traffic. In fact, cut wood was just thrown into the river and floated down from the north. Clinton had many millionaires for a town its size, and a lot of money was made. Eventually, technology and decreasing lumber availability caused the mills to close, which hit the town people hard. Since then, it kinda looks like it just stagnated. North of the Quad cities, Clinton is a hilly place, in a way that kind of makes it fun to just drive around. A lot of the houses are dilapidated and old, but there are nice areas, too. I guess is has a charm, of sorts.
Even from afar, there is something with a ton of lights all over, billowing smoke into the night sky. From miles away you can see it from clear across the Mississippi, from the Illinois side. After heading west and crossing the bridge, I drive south into Clinton. Before you even see it, you smell it. The air hangs heavy, and you can almost taste it. Sometimes it’s moldy beer, and sometimes, it’s dogfood. Othertimes, I have no idea what the smell is, but it’s unpleasant. I keep heading south, and soon enough, the colossal behemoth of steam-punks playground engulfs the entire windshield. Trains, trucks, domes, tubes, smoke, lights, and a medley of industrial chatter. What is it?
The Archer Daniels Midland corn processing plant. It is a wet corn mill, producing standard corn based products such as corn starch, corn meal, and vegetable oil. Other products include various types of animal feed, food products made of corn such as doritos, fritos, corn pops, and so forth, corn syrup that goes into your drinks, and various other things. On top of this, a cogeneration plant was recently built on site. This plant produces coal based energy for the wetmill, which uses insane amounts of electricity. Using coal and remnant corn by-product as fuel, the cogeneration plant saves ADM a ton of money that it would otherwise have to spend on electricity provided from the local grid, prevents itself from external fluctuating energy costs, makes use of discarded corn, and provides protection against external grid outages. It also adds a ton of pollution to the surrounding area. It uses Illinois coal, which is great job-wise, but IL coal is high in sulfur, which produces sulfur dioxide when burned. SO2, once in the air, causes all sorts of respiratory ailments to humans, is toxic, and produces acid rain.
In addition to the usual corn products, this plant WAS producing a biodegradable plastic called Mirel, which was made out of fermented corn starch. Unfortunately, the profit just wasn’t enough, so they claim, and Mirel was discontinued.
Now, these products are all things that a lot of people enjoy, but very few people realize where they come from, and what the impact of producing them is. It’s really hard for me not to go on a rant about ADM themselves, and all the environmental and economical damage they do, be it clear cutting the amazon to grow crops, cornering various markets and fixing prices, buying out politicians, or being the number one corporate welfare queen. They go after both democrats and republicans almost equally, as well as the general public, with a barrage of commercials positively portraying them. If you listen to NPR, they are mentioned frequently.
This plant is a major polluter. As usual, the EPA website is annoyingly difficult to navigate and use. Even worse, chemical release information from this plant is only available from 1988-2002, which is somewhat concerning, as it added a whole power plant after that. ADM will brag about being on the cutting edge of pollution-reduction, but in reality, they only install such things after being fined and settling a nationwide lawsuit. Not to mention that there have been numerous articles in local newspapers about how air pollution from these plant is causing cancer, and using various solvents that cause the air to smell terrible, worrying residents and effectively rendering them guinea pigs for an ever changing mix of chemical processes. To top it off, the EPA and DNR let the plant monitor its own pollution emmisions, trusting ADM to hand over the information error free and non-altered in any way, with no incentive, which is just laughable and sad. That’s like having the cops trusting drug dealers to just arrest themselves.
The top ranking pollutants from this plant are the cancer-inducing ethylene oxide, and various mercury compounds. On top of this, this plant release dioxins, one of the most toxic chemicals known to man, and one that persists for a very, very long time in the environment, due to its extremely long half life. To simply this, just look at the chart below for chemical releases at the Clinton ADM facility.