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Chemical Reporting and Compliance Basics: Many Changes to Manage article continued

There are more kinds of releases than just accidental releases, and TRI program covers all of them. This second article in our Chemical Reporting and Compliance Basics series discusses updates to the TRI program and other TRI-related news. This first article in our Chemical Reporting and Compliance Basics series covers accidental chemical release reporting. The third article covers TSCA, which is intended to help EPA monitor the safety of chemicals at the point of their manufacturing, importing, and during their actual use by consumers, even in the absence of a release.

TRI Reporting Updates

EPA recently made several changes to the TRI reporting requirements that may affect how a facility should complete its TRI report for those releases.

  • A nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) category was added to the TRI chemical list in June 2018. Reporting forms on NPEs are due July 1, 2020, for 2019 data.
  • Chemicals newly classified as OSHA carcinogen with 0.1% de minimis level (changed from 1.0%)
    • N,N dimethylformamide (CAS 68-12-2)
    • 2-mercaptobenzothiazole (CAS 149-30-4)
    • Molybdenum trioxide (CAS 1313-27-5) 
  • Added 172 per/polyfluoroalkyl substances: (PFAS) category for reporting due July 1, 2021. PFAS chemicals are individually listed and subject to manufacturing, processing, and otherwise use reporting thresholds of 100 pounds.

Additionally, last year EPA updated almost all of its chemical/category-specific TRI guidance documents, as listed below.

  1. Aqueous Ammonia (revised March 2019)
  2. Certain Glycol Ethers Category (revised March 2019) 
  3. Chlorophenols Category (revised February 2019)
  4. Compounds and Mixtures (NEW - online version only; no PDF)
  5. Dioxin and Dioxin-like Compounds Category (revised March 2019)
  6. EBDC Acid, Salts and Esters Category and Mixtures Containing Maneb, Metiram, Nabam, and Zineb (revised February 2019)
  7. Hydrochloric Acid Aerosols (revised February 2019)
  8. Lead and Lead Compounds (revised March 2019)
  9. Mercury and Mercury Compounds Category (revised February 2019)
  10. Nicotine and Salts (revised February 2019) 
  11. Nitrate Compounds (revised February 2019)
  12. Pesticides and Other Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic (PBT) Chemicals (revised February 2019)
  13. Polychlorinated Alkanes Category (revised February 2019)
  14. Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) (NEW - online version only; no PDF)
  15. Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds (revised February 2019) 
  16. Strychnine and Salts (revised February 2019) 
  17. Sulfuric Acid Aerosols (revised February 2019)
  18. Toxic Chemical Categories (NEW - online version only; no PDF)
  19. Warfarin and Salts (revised February 2019)

EPA recently updated these three guidance documents:

  1. Lead and Lead Compounds (revised March 2020) 
  2. Sulfuric Acid Aerosols (revised February 2020)
  3. Toxic Chemical Categories (revised February 2020)

Common Problems in TRI Reporting

Outlined below are a few issues or errors that EPA has reported finding recently in TRI submittals. 

  • Not estimating releases, entering each environmental media, or considering offsite transfers; for example:
    • Checking fugitive air emissions as “NA” (not applicable) when the TRI chemical is a VOC.
    • Not considering stormwater as a release pathway when there are air emissions of solids containing TRI chemicals handled at the site.
  • Failing to identify all categories of chemical use or reporting only those that exceed the reporting threshold. for example:
    • TRI chemical used for or manufactured via combustion or natural means
  • Not considering the sum of all compounds in the compound category
  • Not identifying all waste treatment or disposal methods employed; for example:  
    • Are there any molecules of the TRI chemical in the wastewater sludge or in any other solid waste stream? “NA” should be used only when there is no possibility of the TRI chemical being released to or otherwise managed as waste in that media.
    • Have all container residues been considered?  “Empty” as defined under RCRA is not the same as “empty” under EPCRA. Proper reporting of container residues, including tanker trucks and railcars, requires careful review. 
  • Misusing the article and de minimis instead of; for example: 
    • It is quite easy to lose or invalidate the article exemption, such as may happen with many metal cutting operations
    • The de minimis exemption does not automatically apply to chemicals that straddle (span) the de minimis concentration
  • Not considering repackaging activities, especially waste streams that are sold or given away
  • Omitting contractor chemicals or various types of maintenance repairs and other “one off” activities, such as a catalyst or refractory replacement, construction, and asphalting
  • Using release amounts for the threshold determination
  • Excluding hours worked by corporate or other support staff from the employee threshold.
  • Not considering the presence of Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic (PBT) chemicals. Although suppliers are not required to notify regarding the presence of PBTs below the de minimis concentration, PBTs must still be considered. PBT chemicals are present in petroleum products and in most “earth-based materials,” such as lime, limestone, wood, asphalt, and diatomaceous earth.
  • Reporting too many Significant Figures
  • Using an incorrect Basis of Estimate code. There are six codes to choose from, but only one can be used. Although more than one code is quite often relevant to how the reported value was determined, the code for the method used to estimate the largest portion of the release should be listed. 
    Using one production or activity ratio for all TRI chemicals reported. The correct value is a ratio of production or activity involving the TRI chemical in the reporting year to production or activity involving the TRI chemical in the previous year.

EPA Scrutiny

The EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics processes TRI reports to create the Risk Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) score. EPA combines the following three variables to assess the human health risks posed by toxic releases:

  • Fate and transport - how the chemical spreads from the point of release to the surrounding area
  • Toxicity - how dangerous the chemical is on a per-pound basis
  • Population - how many people live in the affected areas

The RSEI score is a unitless number calculated as the product of the estimated dose (estimated through media-specific modeling), the higher of the cancer/non-cancer toxicity weight for each pathway, and the number of potentially exposed people. Federal, state, and local officials, and academics and other analysts, have used RSEI for several purposes:

  • Industry sector- and facility-based targeting for further investigation and strategic planning
  • Analysis of trends
  • Impact of regulations on cross-media risk transfers
  • Environmental justice issues
  • Prioritization for community-based environmental protection

RSEI scores are relative-for example, if the RSEI score for Facility A is 10 times higher than that for Facility B, the potential for risk is considered 10 times greater for Facility A. RSEI scores that are high for industries in a particular community or state, or are high versus those for competitors, put the facility at risk for review by EPA.

Scrutiny by Citizens and Environmental Groups

The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst runs a Corporate Toxics Information Project that develops and disseminates information on corporate releases of pollutants and the consequences for communities. The Project provides interested parties with the the ability to obtain toxic chemical release data, RSEI scores, and environmental justice data for almost any company in the U.S. In addition, every year, PERI issues a list of the top 100 air polluters and the top 100 water polluters based on the RSEI score. And PERI is just one of many non-governmental organizations that make TRI data publicly available to compel companies to reduce their toxic chemical releases. Citizens and environmental groups have used such publicly available toxic release data as a basis for legal action against facilities.

The first two articles in this series address reporting requirements for various types of chemical releases. The third article covers TSCA, which is intended to help EPA monitor the safety of chemicals at the point of their manufacturing, importing, and during their actual use by consumers, even in the absence of a release.