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EPA Eases Requirements for Toxics Reporting

EPA on Dec. 18 finalized a rule that relaxes reporting requirements for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a publicly accessible database that lists the type and quantity of toxic chemicals that companies release into the environment.

The new rule will make more companies eligible to use a shorter, less-detailed reporting form – known as "Form A" – and, for the first time in TRI's history, will allow some companies that handle persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals to use Form A.

Under the new rule:

  • For non-PBT chemicals, businesses that release up to 2,000 pounds of toxic waste annually into the air, land and water – as part of an overall waste management limit of 5,000 pounds – can use the shorter Form A to meet their TRI reporting obligations.
  • For PBT chemicals other than dioxin and dioxin compounds, businesses that completely eliminate releases of PBTs into the environment and recycle or treat no more than 500 pounds of PBTs now can use the shorter Form A. Previously, facilities were not allowed to use Form A for PBT chemicals.

According to EPA, the changes do not affect the specific chemicals or amounts of chemicals that facilities are authorized to release to the environment.

Previously under the TRI program, facilities that released or managed more than 500 pounds of most toxic chemicals tracked by TRI were required to complete "Form R," which details the exact amount of the chemical as well as how much of it was released into the environment and how much was recycled or treated. Facilities releasing or managing fewer than 500 pounds were allowed to fill out Form A, which only requires employers to provide the name of the chemical and certain facility identification information. For PBTs – such as mercury, lead and dioxin – the facilities were required to complete Form R regardless of the total quantity.

EPA: "Delivering a Cleaner, Healthier Nation"

EPA has justified the relaxation of TRI reporting requirements as an ongoing effort to reduce the amount of paperwork companies must fill out "while continuing to provide valuable information to the public." The rule – codified under 40 CFR Part 372 – is titled the Toxics Release Inventory Burden Reduction Final Rule.

In the proposed rule, EPA sought to allow facilities that manage or release a maximum of 5,000 pounds of non-PBT chemicals – up from the previous maximum of 500 pounds – to use Form A. However, the agency in its final rule places a 2,000-pound cap on annual toxic releases and a 5,000-pound cap on total waste management.

According to the agency, this provision addresses stakeholder comments – received during the public comment period of the rulemaking process – expressing concern that the 5,000-pound threshold would allow large releases of toxic waste to occur without requiring the more-detailed Form R reports.

When it announced the final rule, EPA declared that the rule – particularly the 2,000-pound cap on releases for non-PBT chemicals – encourages employers "to rely on preferred waste management methods such as recycling and treatment rather than disposal and other releases."

"EPA is delivering a cleaner, healthier nation by encouraging businesses to make environmental improvements now and in the future," Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock said. "Cleaner businesses are more efficient businesses, which is good for the environment, good for the economy and good for the American people."

In the final rule, the PBT chemical eligibility for Form A is unchanged from the proposed rule. However, pressure from Congress forced the agency to scrap its proposal to require companies to report toxic chemical releases to TRI every other year instead of every year.

TRI was established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986, in response to a methyl isocyanate gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, that killed thousands of people. Companies are required to fill out TRI forms if they handle any of the 650-plus chemicals currently on the TRI list.

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