Information and Updates for AltEn near Mead, Nebraska
Facility ID: 84069
Date last revised: Sept. 14, 2021
This page is designed to keep the Mead community, Saunders County residents and interested citizens informed about significant activities related to the cleanup and mitigation actions at the AltEn ethanol facility.
Note: Older updates can be found below the Documents section.
EPA to conduct air monitoring survey – Sept. 14, 2021
To bolster state sampling efforts on and around the AltEn facility, the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) has requested additional monitoring from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7 and Region 5 through its Geospatial Measurement of Air Pollution (GMAP) air monitoring vehicle. NDEE contacted the EPA to request the vehicle earlier this year.
During the week of September 13, the EPA will conduct a screening-level air monitoring survey near the AltEn ethanol facility with its GMAP air monitoring vehicle, weather permitting. Mead area residents can expect to see monitoring activity during this time, with sampling locations determined by wind direction.
Data collected from EPA’s GMAP vehicle during this assessment will be used for air pollution screening purposes. It will provide more information on source attribution by measuring both mobile and stationary emissions. The vehicle can measure chemicals including hydrogen sulfide, methane, benzene, toluene, p-xylene and sulfur dioxide, along with wind speed and direction.
EPA will provide the screening data and mapping results to NDEE. It generally takes at least three months to process, verify and send the data. NDEE, the lead regulatory agency over the AltEn facility, has already conducted other monitoring including water, air, waste material and soil sampling.
For the most recent NDEE sampling results, see the Aug. 4, Aug. 18 and Aug. 19 updates on the agency’s AltEn page. For background on NDEE air sampling efforts, see the July 28 update.
An EPA Region 7 fact sheet provides more information about GMAP monitoring at the AltEn facility.
NDEE receives proposal for new lagoons – Sept. 8, 2021
The AltEn Facility Response Group (AFRG) has submitted a proposal to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) to construct two new lagoon cells on the AltEn site. The lagoons would be directly south of the northwest lagoon, where the central temporary storage tanks are currently located.
The proposal includes plans to transfer untreated wastewater from some tanks to existing lagoons and other tanks before beginning lagoon construction. Untreated water currently in tanks 4, 5 and 6 would be returned to the existing lagoon system. The tanks would then be relined and used for the storage of treated water.
After tanks 4, 5, and 6 would be converted to treated water tanks, treated water currently in tanks 7, 8, 9 and 10 would be transferred to these tanks as well as to tanks 1, 2 and 3. Tanks 7, 8, 9 and 10 would be removed from the site before the AFRG starts construction on the two new lagoon cells.
This image provided by the AFRG identifies the locations of the lagoons and tanks on the AltEn site.
NDEE has approved the water transfer proposal. Prior to construction of the new lagoons, the AFRG must submit a Nebraska Administrative Code Title 123 - Rules and Regulations for the Design, Operation and Maintenance of Wastewater Works construction permit application. The application must include plans and specifications and be submitted by a Nebraska Professional Engineer.
Berm seepage reported on AltEn site – Sept. 3, 2021
The AltEn Facility Response Group (AFRG) has reported saturation of a berm surrounding the east distillers grain pile after heavy rains on the morning of Aug. 31. The saturation caused seepage on the AltEn property, and AFRG contractor Clean Harbors has taken action to help prevent runoff from moving downstream.
The seep was noticed the morning of Aug. 31, and the AFRG reported it to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) on the same day. Clean Harbors’ incident report states plugs were inflated in the culvert at the intersection of county roads 9 and J to block the runoff, and a vacuum truck was deployed to relieve water volume pressure on the berm.
NDEE inspectors visited the site on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 to observe the incident.
Documents related to this incident can be found on NDEE’s public records portal:Deadline extended for remedial action plan - Aug. 31, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) has granted the AltEn Facility Response Group (AFRG) an extension on its deadline to submit its Remedial Action Plan (RAP).
The RAP was originally due at the end of September and is now due no later than Nov. 1, 2021. The AFRG requested the extension for the RAP, stating it had prioritized interim emergency response measures and activities to stabilize the site for winter. NDEE granted the extension based on those actions, which, according to the AFRG, include:
- Improving wastewater treatment efficiency
- Consolidating piles of distillers grain
- Maintaining freeboard in the industrial lagoons
- Repairing and maintaining the emergency pond
- Working toward land application of treated wastewater
- Developing engineering plans for a treated water pond
- Developing plans to drain digester tanks
- Developing plans for closures and draining of temporary water tanks
AFRG’s extension request and NDEE’s response can be found in the public records portal in a document titled “Extension Request Approval,” filed Aug. 27, 2021.
NDEE receives plan to repair emergency lagoon - Aug. 31, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) has reviewed the AltEn Facility Response Group’s (AFRG) plan to repair the emergency lagoon on the AltEn site.
The AFRG plans to begin this work the week of Aug. 29 and expects it will take five to six weeks to complete. The work includes removing liquid and solid wastes from the emergency lagoon and replacing the existing liner.
The liquid waste will be pumped into the facility’s southeast lagoon, and the solid material will be placed on the eastern side of the emergency lagoon while it dries. Any liquid that is removed from the solid material will be removed and treated. Once the solid material is dry enough to transport, it will be added to the northwest pile of distillers grain, also referred to as wetcake.
The AFRG’s plans can be viewed in full in the public records portal in a document titled “Request Information/NDEQ Response,” filed Aug. 27, 2021.
NDEE receives drinking water sample results – Aug. 19, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy received additional public and private drinking well sample results collected on Aug. 2 and Aug. 3. These results include two Village of Mead, two Army National Guard and two University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) public drinking water supply wells, plus six private drinking water wells.
All results showed non-detectable levels for all compounds tested, with the exception of one UNL well. This well had 0.071 μg/L of the pesticide clothianidin, which is below the EPA drinking water benchmark of 630 μg/L. NDEE plans to resample the well.
These results can be viewed on the agency’s public records portal by searching AltEn’s facility number 84069 and viewing the documents titled “Sampling Results,” filed Aug. 19.
NDEE receives plans to consolidate distillers grain piles - Aug. 18, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) has received a plan from the AltEn Facility Response Group (AFRG) to consolidate all the distillers grain material to one location on the AltEn site. The work to move the material is planned to begin on Monday, Aug. 23*, and is expected to take 28 days to complete.
The distillers grain at the east end of the AltEn property will be moved to the northwest pile, where all the other material is located. The AFRG plans to conduct work to minimize odor, and when possible, plans to avoid scheduling work during important community events. However, nearby residents may still notice an odor during this time.
Clean Harbors, the AFRG’s contractor, will use excavators, off-road haul trucks, bulldozers and front-end loaders to move the piles. The AFRG also has plans to minimize dust by using water or dust suppressant on the unpaved roads on site – it will not use public roads or rights-of-way for this work.
After the distillers grain has been removed from the east location, the AFRG plans to sample the area for compounds associated with the AltEn site.
Documents that detail the AFRG’s proposal and NDEE’s comments can be found on the public records portal in the following documents:
- “Wet Cake Pile Consolidation Plan,” filed Aug. 16, 2021
- “Wet Cake Consolidation/NDEQ Response,” filed Aug. 16, 2021
The AFRG is made up of six seed companies: AgReliant Genetics, LLC; Bayer U.S., LLC; Beck’s Superior Hybrids, LLC; Corteva Agriscience, LLC; Syngenta Seeds, LLC; and WinField Solutions, LLC. The group has enrolled in the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy’s (NDEE) Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) to address environmental contamination at the AltEn site, and is in the process of creating a Remedial Action Plan (RAP). The RAP will be made available for public review and comment before it is approved.
*This information was updated on Thursday, Aug. 19, at 3:19 p.m.
NDEE responds to Senator Blood letter - Aug. 18, 2021
On Aug. 17, NDEE responded to a letter from Nebraska Senator Carol Blood. See below for her letter and NDEE’s response.
First week of VOC sample results are in - Aug. 18, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) has received its first batch of air sample results for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on the AltEn site. These samples were collected on July 23.
The agency has reviewed the sample data to determine if any VOC concentrations were above limits set by the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) or the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Exposure Guideline Levels (AEGLs). The EPA has a technical definition for VOCs here.
Sixteen compounds were detected in the VOC sampling, and most had concentrations that were less than or equal to 1% of the limits listed by NIOSH and EPA. Monitor 6 detected benzene levels at 21.88% of the lowest exposure limit. Benzene is commonly emitted from gas stations, vehicle exhaust, fuel evaporation, and burning coal and oil, among other sources. Monitor 6 is placed between Road 10 and the pile of distillers grain.
Sample results, as well as a memo describing the results in more technical detail, can be found on NDEE’s public records portal in documents titled “Laboratory Analysis,” filed Aug. 10, 2021. Future sample results will also be available on the public records portal.
In total, six summa cannisters were placed around the facility’s lagoons and its northwest pile of distillers grains. Given their location, the cannisters measure on-site air rather than ambient air, which is defined in the Clean Air Act as outside air that the general public has access to.
NDEE receives land application proposal for treated water - Aug. 11, 2021
The AltEn Facility Response Group (AFRG) has been treating wastewater as part of its interim remediation efforts at the AltEn site and has filed a proposal to land apply the treated water to agricultural land.
The AFRG is made up of six seed companies: AgReliant Genetics, LLC; Bayer U.S., LLC; Beck’s Superior Hybrids, LLC; Corteva Agriscience, LLC; Syngenta Seeds, LLC; and WinField Solutions, LLC. The group has enrolled in the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy’s (NDEE) Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) to address environmental contamination at the AltEn site, and is in the process of creating a Remedial Action Plan (RAP). The RAP will be made available for public review comment before it is approved.
NDEE has reviewed the AFRG’s land application proposal and has given technical review comments to the AFRG. The proposal and NDEE’s comments are available on the public records portal in documents titled “Land Application Proposal” filed on July 16 and “Land Application Comments” filed on August 4.
The AFRG has treated approximately 12 million gallons of wastewater and is storing the treated water in temporary storage tanks on site. The wastewater has been pulled from the onsite industrial lagoons to be treated and to lower the amount of wastewater in the lagoons to a safe level.
AFRG is requesting to land apply so additional measures, such as heat and water circulation, will not be needed for the tanks over the winter.
The AFRG provided NDEE with sample results for wastewater before and after treatment, referred to as influent and effluent, respectively. The sample results show the treatment process is effective in lowering pesticide levels, though nutrient levels (ammonia, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other traditional parameters) are still elevated. These results can be viewed on the public records portal in the following documents:
- “Laboratory Wastewater Analysis,” filed July 20
- “Laboratory Wastewater Analysis,” filed June 29
NDEE has observed the treatment process. First, the wastewater is run through treatment equipment AltEn already had on site. The system starts by clarifying the wastewater to remove solid materials and this process is helped by adding chemicals that are commonly used in wastewater treatment. Then, the water is run through sand filters and carbon filters to remove pesticides and other contaminants.
Next, the water is run through a portable treatment system brought to the site by Clean Harbors, the group’s contractor. This portable system also clarifies the water before running it through sand filters, a clay filter and carbon filters.
Two written memos that describe the treatment process in more technical detail can be viewed on the agency’s public records portal. These memos were filed on April 14 and May 5, and both are titled “Site Visit.”
NDEE samples Memphis Lake, pesticides not detected - Aug. 4, 2021
As part of its continuing sampling efforts related to the AltEn facility, the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy collected surface water samples from Memphis Lake and Silver Creek near Memphis.
Results for both locations showed non-detectable levels for all analytes sampled for, including compounds associated with the AltEn site. Samples were collected on July 14 from the boat ramp dock at Memphis Lake and above a diversion dam on Silver Creek, north of the lake. These sample results can be seen on NDEE’s public records portal in documents titled “Sample Results” filed on July 29, 2021.
NDEE sampled these locations because representatives from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission said it uses the diversion dam to direct water from Silver Creek into a wetland complex that feeds into Memphis Lake. Game and Parks was concerned about diverting water from the creek because of its proximity to AltEn.
NDEE provides repository of public records to library - July 29, 2021
In an effort to make information more readily available, the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy has created a repository of paper records at the Mead Library.
The repository is a hard copy of key documents maintained in a binder that Mead residents can review at their convenience to find information related to the AltEn facility. The documents provided to the library are not all the public documents about AltEn, but those interested can view a comprehensive list of public documents on NDEE’s public records portal by searching the Facility ID 84069.
The documents contained in the repository are the same documents that were included in NDEE’s response to state Sen. Carol Blood. The letter and its attachment can be found in digital form in the July 9 update below.
As progress is made at the AltEn facility and more information becomes available, NDEE will provide additional key documents for the repository. The Mead Library is located in the village at 316 South Vine Street. The binder is available for review at the library, but cannot be checked out or removed from the building.
NDEE begins air sampling - July 28, 2021
NDEE is expanding its sampling efforts and will conduct additional air, water and soil testing related to the AltEn site. This sampling is being conducted out of an abundance of caution and it will provide useful data as the AltEn Facility Response Group develops its Remedial Action Plan.
NDEE will focus its sampling on protecting human health, while the AltEn Facility Response Group will focus on sampling at the AltEn property.
To start this sampling effort, NDEE deployed six passive air samplers on July 23. The passive samplers will collect daily air samples focusing on hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and ammonia.
Pictured top is a passive air monitor that was installed at the AltEn Facility on July 23. In total, six air samplers were installed to provide daily information on hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and ammonia, in addition to other air sampling. Pictured on the bottom is NDEE's contractor preparing a Summa Cannister, which will gather data on volatile organic compounds.
The agency also used Summa Cannisters on site on July 23 to gather data on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air. While the agency does not regulate odors, the passive air sampling and the Summa Cannisters will provide data and information about the compounds that may be contributing to the odor from the facility. Sample results from these efforts will be made public once they are available.
In addition to these daily samples, NDEE has also sampled the air around AltEn’s lagoons and distillers grain piles using a MultiRAE hand sampler. The handheld sampler is typically used in emergency response functions and in enclosed spaces, and can measure methane, oxygen levels and carbon monoxide. However, the agency used it to get quick readings for H2S and VOCs at AltEn. Results from the MultiRAE showed no readings over zero for all analytes sampled. The investigation report detailing these efforts can be found on the agency’s public records portal in the “Site Visit” document from July 23.
NDEE responds to Senator Blood letter - July 9, 2021
On July 9, NDEE responded to a letter from Nebraska Senator Carol Blood. See below for her letter and NDEE’s response.
NDEE approves VCP application - July 8, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy approved the Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) application from the AltEn Facility Response Group.
The application was approved June 30 and marks the group’s official enrollment in the VCP. The AltEn Facility Response Group is made up of six seed companies: AgReliant Genetics, LLC: Bayer U.S., LLC; Beck’s Superior Hybrids, LLC; Corteva Agriscience, LLC; Syngenta Seeds, LLC; and WinField Solutions, LLC.
In addition to the application approval, NDEE and the AltEn Facility Response Group have signed a memorandum of agreement that outlines program expectations. The group’s application, NDEE’s approval, and the memorandum of agreement can be found on the agency’s public records portal.
Clean Harbors, an environmental and industrial services provider, has prepared an area on the AltEn site to build up to seven additional temporary water storage tanks. With three tanks previously constructed on site, the new tanks will bring the total number of temporary tanks to 10.
Clean Harbors prepared this site for seven additional temporary water storage tanks on the AltEn property. Three tanks had previously been constructed elsewhere on site, and four of the seven new tanks have already been erected. Once the three remaining tanks are constructed, there will be a total of 10 tanks on site. The new tank area has secondary containment that includes berms and a synthetic liner topped with an additional layer of clay that has been brought on to the property from off-site. The synthetic liner and clay layer extend to the sides of the berms that provide secondary containment for the tanks. This photo was taken June 28, 2021.
The tanks will be used to store treated wastewater, or to store wastewater before it can be treated. Of the seven new tanks, six have a 3.5-million-gallon capacity and one has 3 million, but they will not be completely filled because they have a working capacity of around 80-85%. Secondary containment is in place and includes berms and a synthetic liner topped with clay that was brought in from off-site.
Groundwater monitoring results
AltEn is required to have a groundwater monitoring plan and provide quarterly updates. Its June report shows one of its four monitoring wells contained thiamethoxam at 19.2 parts per billion (ppb) and clothianidin at 34 ppb. The three remaining well samples showed non-detectable levels for all compounds tested.
The complete groundwater monitoring report can be found in the “Groundwater Monitoring” document filed June 21 on NDEE’s public records portal.
Seed companies apply to VCP for AltEn site - June 10, 2021
A coalition of six seed companies has applied to the Nebraska Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) to address environmental contamination at the AltEn facility located near Mead, Nebraska. The VCP is a results-based approach to environmental cleanup that allows NDEE to review and oversee remediation efforts.
The seed companies — collectively known as the AltEn Facility Response Group — include AgReliant Genetics, LLC; Bayer U.S., LLC; Beck’s Superior Hybrids, Inc.; Corteva Agriscience, LLC; Syngenta Seeds, LLC; and WinField Solutions, LLC.
Under the VCP application, the AltEn Facility Response Group is committing to continuing interim remedial measures at the site. The group will also develop a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) subject to public notice and comment, as well as NDEE review and approval. The RAP could then be the basis for long-term remedial measures at the site.
“The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy is pleased with the group’s willingness to participate in the VCP. This program creates opportunities for third parties to efficiently clean up sites,” said NDEE Director Jim Macy. “By stepping up to address AltEn’s contamination issues, the group will help provide a significant measure of protection to the citizens of Mead and surrounding areas.”
“This is a positive step towards implementing the long-term response actions needed at this facility,” said Ed Chu, Acting Regional Administrator for Environmental Protection Agency Region 7. “We look forward to continuing to provide support and assistance to NDEE to ensure the contamination is properly and fully addressed.”
After reviewing the VCP application, NDEE will approve or deny the application. If approved, the AltEn Facility Response Group will begin developing a proposed RAP that conforms to state and federal environmental requirements.
Any updates will be published on the NDEE website at dee.ne.gov/Press.nsf/pages/AltEn.
Remedial work to date
Seed companies have voluntarily undertaken interim remedial work at the AltEn site since Feb. 12, primarily focusing on managing wastewater lagoon levels and liners. They have also assisted with emergency response by helping manage the environmental impacts of wet cake and waste materials onsite through containment and stormwater management.
About the VCP
Since the program’s inception in 1995 under the Remedial Action Plan Monitoring Act, many contaminated sites have been successfully remediated and returned to productive use, including Asarco in downtown Omaha and the Haymarket in downtown Lincoln.
Through the VCP, applicants develop a RAP for NDEE review and approval with public participation that assures compliance with state and federal environmental requirements. Because applicants are responsible for paying for site investigations and cleanup actions, this program has no cost to taxpayers.
A RAP includes site investigation information outlining the extent of the contamination, a workplan that describes cleanup actions and project monitoring reports containing data required by NDEE. Once a RAP is approved, applicants typically have six months to begin work on a site and 24 months to complete it, although those terms may change.
NDEE receives additional private well results - May 26, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy received additional private drinking well sample results and continues to oversee actions taking place at the AltEn facility.
Private well sampling
NDEE sampled an additional private drinking well on May 5 and received results on May 21. These results showed non-detectable levels for all compounds tested, and can be viewed on the agency’s public records portal in documents titled “Sampling Results” filed May 24.
This private well was sampled because it is located downgradient from where a pile of AltEn’s distillers grain was being stored. That pile has since been returned to the AltEn site.
The agency previously sampled five other private drinking wells, and those results also showed non-detectable levels for all compounds tested. Summaries of these samples can be found in previous updates from April 1 and April 16.
Stormwater controls and other actions
Clean Harbors has built new and reinforced existing berms surrounding the distillers grain piles on the AltEn site. This is a best management practice to prevent stormwater runoff from the piles from entering nearby waterways.
Stormwater that collects behind these berms is being pumped into AltEn’s emergency lagoon, or to the industrial lagoon with NDEE approval, for storage before it can be treated.
Clean Harbors also is consolidating piles of the distillers grain to make more room for water treatment equipment. NDEE continues to have staff monitor ongoing action at the AltEn facility.
NDEE addressing environmental issues - April 29, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) has been working, with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to address the environmental issues at the AltEn, LLC ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska. NDEE and EPA are exploring all available options for addressing the environmental issues at the site.
In conjunction with the agencies’ efforts, seed industry representatives have voluntarily begun actions to assist with emergency measures, including reducing the level of wastewater in the lagoons to approved levels and implementing stormwater control measures to prevent discharges from the distiller’s grain piles. These measures are integral to addressing the most immediate issues at the AltEn facility and are being conducted with full review and oversight by NDEE and EPA.
“We appreciate the industry representatives’ proactive commitment to address this situation,” said NDEE Director Jim Macy. “These actions are a crucial next step at the facility as more permanent solutions are investigated.”
In addition to the Nebraska Attorney General’s efforts to ensure AltEn’s compliance, NDEE and EPA are discussing a longer-term commitment by the seed industry to fully address the environmental issues at the site.
Facility recovers distillers grain, moves biochar - April 27, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy continues to observe cleanup efforts at the AltEn facility, including the facility’s actions regarding its distillers grain and biochar material.
Recovered distillers grain
NDEE has confirmed that AltEn recovered three piles of distillers grain that were not on the facility’s property. This distillers grain had been delivered for land application before the Nebraska Department of Agriculture issued a stop sale/stop use order, though it was never applied. The material is now being stored with the rest of the distillers grain on AltEn’s property.
NDEE has also confirmed that AltEn moved all its supersacks of biochar to its enclosed hoop building. This is a stormwater control measure that will prevent the biochar from coming into contact with stormwater.
AltEn previously used a biochar unit to process some of the distillers grain stored on site, as announced in NDEE’s March 5 update. Because sample results of the biochar material showed it still contained pesticides, NDEE directed AltEn to store the biochar in a way that prevents land contamination and contact with stormwater (see NDEE’s March 31 update for more information).
NDEE receives sampling results from mid-March – April 16, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy has received results from samples it collected in mid-March. These results include the remaining three private drinking well samples, surface water samples, and samples from the distillers grain piles located on AltEn’s property.
Private well results
The three remaining private well results showed non-detectable levels for all compounds tested in the drinking water. NDEE has provided test results to the well owners, and those documents are available on the public records portal in documents titled “Sampling Results” filed April 13.
On March 4, NDEE announced it was collecting samples from private drinking water wells. Five wells were selected to sample based on their proximity to the AltEn facility and known land application of both distillers grain and the facility’s lagoon wastewater. Sample results for the first two wells were announced April 1, and showed non-detectable levels for all compounds tested.
Surface water and distillers grain samples
NDEE collected surface water samples on March 14 during a large rainfall event. Samples were collected at two locations in the unnamed tributary of Clear Creek: “Site 5,” located just off AltEn’s property, and “Site 3” near Highway 66 and Road 7. Pesticides were present in the sample results, which can be found on the public records portal in documents titled “Sampling Results” filed April 12.
NDEE collected samples from the distillers grain on March 11, and results show pesticides are present in the material. Sample results can be found on the public records portal in a document titled “Sampling Results” filed April 13.
NDEE provides updates on AltEn activities – April 6, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy continues to have staff monitor ongoing action at the AltEn facility. The facility’s recent actions include implementing wastewater treatment and placing the biochar material in an enclosed storage area.
AltEn is operating a wastewater treatment system to address the pesticides present in its wastewater lagoons. Once the wastewater is treated, it will be tested and held in temporary storage tanks while NDEE awaits sample results. Those results will help determine if further treatment is necessary or if the treated water can be used or discharged. It is necessary to treat and remove the wastewater to create adequate freeboard in the lagoon system and so the lagoons can be repaired.
AltEn is also in the process of moving supersacks of biochar to its enclosed hoop building. This is a stormwater control that will prevent the biochar from coming into contact with stormwater.
NDEE team members visit AltEn to regularly monitor conditions at the facility. This includes monitoring stormwater controls AltEn has put in place to prevent runoff from piles of distillers grains. Observations from these site visits can be found on NDEE’s public records portal in documents described as “compliance.”
NDEE receives some background sampling results – April 1, 2021 (updated April 13)
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy has received results from two private drinking water well samples and a soil sample from the Mead park. NDEE collected these samples to gain background data on the area surrounding the AltEn facility.
NDEE reported March 4 that it tested four private wells. A fifth private well was tested on March 9. NDEE’s contractor collected soil samples from a park in Mead on Feb. 26.
More information on this sampling effort can be found in the department’s March 4 update on ongoing actions regarding AltEn. NDEE will update its website once results from the remaining three private wells are finalized.
Private Well Results
The two private well results showed non-detectable levels for all compounds tested in the drinking water. NDEE has provided the results to the well owners, and they are available on the department’s public records portal in sample result documents filed March 25.
Soil Sample Results
NDEE sampled soil from the park in Mead to evaluate air deposition, which happens when wind carries contaminants in the air and re-deposits them on the ground.
The composite sample consisted of 21 parts, collected in locations throughout the park. The parts, referred to as aliquots, were combined into a single sample and analyzed for pesticides found at the AltEn facility.
Two of the compounds that were detected in the sample were clothianidin and glyphosate. Two additional compounds, fluoxastrobin and thiamethoxam, were detected, but with concentrations below what the lab could quantify with confidence. The lab has since amended its data, and those changes are reflected in the table below.
Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid that has been found at the AltEn facility. Its main agricultural use is seed treatments, though it is also found in some commercial insecticides and has non-ag uses such as treating turf and ornamental plants.
Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide; Roundup is one example of an herbicide that uses this chemical. While glyphosate is not used as a seed treatment, it has been found at AltEn.
The table below shows the levels of the compounds that were detected in the park and compares them to the soil screening level developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The screening level is designed to be protective of human health.
*This updated was revised on April 13 to account for amended laboratory data. The J-codes for fluoxastrobin and thiamethoxam signify the compound is present, but that the level detected is an estimate.
parts per billion (ppb)
Soil Screening Level
parts per billion (ppb)
1.23 - J
3.39 - J
The full sample results can be found on NDEE’s public records portal in the document titled “Sampling Results” filed March 26. Amended sample results are also in the records portal in a "Sample Results" document filed April 9.
NDEE receives biochar sampling results – March 31, 2021
NDEE received biochar test results based on a sample collected on March 3, 2021.
The preliminary test results indicate that the biochar process does not fully remove the pesticides from the distillers grain when converting it to biochar. Therefore, NDEE continues to consider the biochar a solid waste as defined by Nebraska Administrative Code Title 132: Integrated Solid Waste Management Regulations.
In a letter sent to AltEn on March 26, 2021, NDEE said the facility may dispose of the biochar at a permitted landfill or re-process the biochar through the biochar unit to attempt to remove the pesticides.
If AltEn chooses to re-process the biochar or process additional distillers grain through the biochar unit, NDEE must first approve a plan that thoroughly describes how the processing will occur as well as a sampling plan.
Any onsite biochar must be stored in a way that prevents land contamination and contact with stormwater. Acceptable storage methods include relocating the biochar to the grain storage building.
The agency has never issued a permit for land application of the biochar.
Preliminary test results are available in the public records portal.
NDEE receives AltEn's sample results from digester discharge - March 30, 2021
The AltEn ethanol facility has provided sample results related to the Feb. 12 digester spill to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy. Two sets of samples were collected by AltEn and its contractor. NDEE observed these sample collections.
AltEn and its consultant collected samples on Feb. 28 and March 3, 2021, from several locations along the unnamed tributary of Clear Creek where the Feb. 12, 2021, digester spill had been contained. They also collected samples from recovered water before and after it was filtered.
The test results showed pesticides were present in the samples collected, but higher levels were found closer to the digesters where the spill originated. Additionally, the samples taken before filtration showed higher levels of pesticides than the samples taken after filtration, which showed decreased levels of pesticides. The filtered water is being contained in a temporary storage tank at the facility for further analysis and evaluation.
Full test results can be found on NDEE’s public records portal in sampling result documents filed March 22, 2021.
NDEE is working closely with the EPA to evaluate these pesticides.
NDEE receives public water supply sample results - March 18, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy received sample results for the public water supply samples it collected in the Mead area earlier this month.
Results showed non-detectable (ND) levels of neonicotinoids, strobins, and azoles for all sampled wells. The full sample results can be viewed in NDEE's public records portal.
Samples were collected at six public water supply wells: two at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Eastern Nebraska Research Center (UNL ENREC), two at the Nebraska National Guard’s training site, and two wells connected to Mead’s public water system. These sites were selected because of their proximity to the AltEn ethanol facility and known land application of the facility’s distillers grain and wastewater.
Additional drinking water and soil sample results are pending.
Activities over the March 13-14 weekend
In preparation for a rain event March 14-15, NDEE directed AltEn to build and reinforce berms on its property and implement other best management practices to contain potential stormwater runoff from its stockpiled distillers grain. NDEE staff were on site over the weekend to observe AltEn’s efforts.
Additionally, AltEn had recovered as much spilled material as possible from the unnamed tributary of Clear Creek following the Feb. 12 digester discharge, and collected samples during the cleanup. Results from those samples can be found on NDEE’s public records portal.
Because of the sample results, the stormwater controls implemented by the facility, and the amount of rain that was expected over the weekend, AltEn removed temporary containment structures to prevent flooding. These structures were put in place to prevent the digester spill from migrating farther downstream, and were located in culverts near Highway 66 and Road 7 and in a culvert upstream near the facility.
NDEE notified the City of Lincoln, UNL ENREC, and a downstream pond owner that the structures were being removed.
Biochar unit operating at AltEn facility - March 5, 2021
The AltEn facility is using a biochar unit to begin processing some of the distillers grain that has been stored on site, and nearby residents may notice steam coming from the unit.
Distillers grain is a byproduct of ethanol production and is often used as animal feed. However, because the material on AltEn’s property contains neonicotinoids – a class of pesticides – it is not suitable for animal feed. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture has prohibited its use as a soil amendment.
A biochar unit typically chars biomass, with the resulting material usually intended to be used as a soil amendment.
NDEE Director Jim Macy issued an administrative order on Nov. 20, 2018, requiring AltEn and Greencycle Solutions to conduct emissions testing on its biochar unit. Greencycle Solutions owns the biochar unit and AltEn operates it. Testing completed in July 2020 showed emissions below the criteria for regulated air pollutants and contained small amounts of pesticides.
The department has collected a sample of the resulting biochar product for testing to determine if it contains pesticides, or if the charring process destroys the chemicals. Results from that test will be made available on NDEE’s public records portal and can be found by searching AltEn’s facility ID: 84069.
(This update was corrected on March 10, 2021)
NDEE conducts background sampling in Mead - March 4, 2021
The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy has conducted additional sampling in the Mead area to gain additional background on the AltEn ethanol facility, and to remain vigilant regarding potential environmental impacts the facility has had on the area.
This sampling effort includes six public water supply wells, four private wells and one soil sample.
Drinking water well sampling
The six public water supply wells include two wells at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center; two wells at the Nebraska National Guard’s training site; and two wells connected to Mead’s public water system. As of March 2, the agency has collected two of the four private well samples. These sample sites were selected because of their proximity to the facility and known land application of both distillers grain and the facility’s lagoon wastewater.
NDEE also collected a soil sample from Mead’s public park to evaluate air deposition, which happens when wind carries contaminants in the air that later re-deposit on the ground. While the agency does not expect to find contamination at this site, it conducted the sampling in an abundance of caution.
Test results from this sampling effort will be made available on the agency’s public records portal. Those interested can view them by searching the Facility ID 84069. Links to this announcement and previous press releases, as well as administrative orders, can be seen below.