Chemical manufacturers are faced with a wide range of chemical inventory reporting obligations, from programs under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) to the Risk Management Plan (RMP) Rule. Depending on the program, facilities may be responsible for determining maximum on-site chemical quantities, the amount manufactured and/or processed in a given year, mass emission rates, waste generation quantities, and EQ_Spring_2018_article1_pic1 more. This information is often used to determine whether and to what extent the facility must comply with reporting requirements. Furthermore, once a facility's chemical inventory data is submitted to the relevant agency the information may end up in the public domain and be used it to target facilities for inspection. Despite the potential visibility and significance of the data, it is common practice for chemical inventory reporting responsibilities to be de-centralized across facility departments ranging from environmental to safety or even purchasing/accounting. With a coordinated, strategic approach to chemical inventory data consolidation and reporting, organizations can improve the efficiency of their reporting and minimize or prevent unwarranted scrutiny. 

Any anomalies within the chemical inventory reports can serve as “red flags” to EPA and raise concerns, such as a HAP minor source that reports a large HAP inventory on an EPCRA Section 312 Tier II submission or an EPCRA Section 313 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Form A or R.

Other examples would be reporting a sizeable mass emission rate on a TRI Form R for a chemical not listed on various other reporting forms or reporting a value that is not comparable to levels found in permitting  support calculations or emissions inventories under Title V or state permitting programs. Once EPA begins to scrutinize a facility, the compliance risk becomes heightened for seemingly benign actions such as the mischaracterization of “recycling” a TRI chemical or the accumulation of small amounts of waste.

Common Discrepancies in Chemical Reporting

Staff responsible for aggregating chemical inventory data should be aware of several common causes of data discrepancies that can trigger increased scrutiny by regulators and/or advocacy groups.

  • Lack of communication. A lack of communication, whether at the staff level between on-site professionals or at the processing level between reporting spreadsheets/databases, creates both compliance concerns and inherent inefficiencies. A major reporting error isolated to one chemical reporting program could be preempted by something as simple as the TRI lead staff person reviewing the results of a Tier II submission or an emissions inventory prior to submitting a Form R.
  • Misunderstanding or incorrect application of de minimis levels across programs. The de minimis threshold, representing the concentration below which a chemical constituent is excluded from threshold calculations, is not consistent between programs. Tier II and EPCRA Section 312 (Emergency Planning and Notification) use 1% as the de minimis threshold, while the RMP Rule employs 1% with certain compound-specific thresholds. TRI uses a 0.1% or lower threshold for select carcinogens and persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) compounds. Furthermore, TRI de minimis exemptions generally do not apply to most manufactured chemicals and cannot be applied to a chemical constituent that begins at a concentration over the threshold and is subsequently processed or otherwise reduced to below the threshold.
  • Mismanagement of Safety Data Sheets (SDS). SDS management is critical to ensuring accurate chemical reporting. If large quantities of materials are being stored, manufactured, and/or processed, a small change in the composition of an on-site material can have large ramifications across multiple programs. In a worst-case scenario, an RMP chemical moves from de minimis exempt to non-exempt due to a composition change in a raw material but the facility does not take the proper steps to meet the immediately applicable compliance requirements of the RMP program. A more common occurrence is that those responsible for programs such as Tier II and Emergency Planning and Notification keep a “fresh” set of SDS due to immediate reporting needs while other programs, such as TRI, rely on stagnant material composition data due to relative year-over-year production consistency that ultimately creates discrepancies in reported values.
  • Miscalculation or perceived miscalculation in TRI maximum on-site value. One of the single biggest contributors in recent years to EPA's questioning of Tier II/RMP/TRI reporting practices is a TRI maximum on-site value that suggests a failure to report a chemical under another program. A common practice for determining a site's “Maximum Amount of the Toxic Chemical On-Site at Any Time During the Calendar Year”, as required for Form R Part II Section 4, is to calculate the annual manufactured, processed, or otherwise-used TRI value and then to simply divide that annual amount of TRI reportable chemical by an estimated normalizing variable (e.g., annual processed weight divided by 365 days or 52 weeks). If the simplified “normalizing” calculation does not accurately reflect the site's process operations, it could erroneously result in an on-site quantity that suggests the chemical should have been reported under Tier II or included in an RMP. The aggregation of a chemical in various waste and emissions streams as required for the TRI maximum on-site calculations could seemingly (but incorrectly) imply that a reporting threshold was met for another program. Furthermore, the various reporting programs have differing guidance for using SDS ranges (e.g., Tier II uses the maximum value of an SDS range while TRI uses the average), which can lead to differences in reported on-site values. 

As referenced with the TRI max on-site calculations, there are nuances between chemical reporting programs that can lead to perceived discrepancies even when the determinations are applied correctly. The simplest example is a solvent that is “otherwise used” throughout the year that exceeds the annual 10,000 pound TRI threshold but has a maximum on-site value below the thresholds for other programs. A more complicated example would be a facility that uses the less than 10 mm Hg vapor pressure RMP exemption for a 1.5% formaldehyde solution but is not able to exempt the solution from Tier II and TRI reporting. Many of these unique threshold determinations are not detailed within a chemical inventory reporting submission and, consequently, may not be apparent to EPA or state agency staff reviewing the submissions.

Recommendations to Mitigate Risks

As discussed in the common pitfalls and case study, inconsistencies and errors are often the result of simple and avoidable actions. With this in mind, facilities can safeguard against unnecessary self-implication and chemical inventory reporting program management inefficiencies by following the recommendations below.  

  • Always assume that someone with little knowledge of your processes will be reviewing all chemical inventory submittals, and they will need to come to the same conclusion regarding reporting determinations; thus, extensively document all determinations regarding chemical reporting applicability in order to prepare preemptively for EPA or state agency questioning. This commitment to documentation will also assure a smooth transition when inevitable turnover of on-site personnel occurs.
  • Centralize calculations that are used in multiple programs. Manage one spreadsheet, spreadsheet system, or database that encompasses all chemical inventory based threshold calculations under each regulatory program and generates all reporting thresholds. This can also be used for a “reality check” comparison. As an added benefit to mitigating unnecessary compliance risks, a facility will likely find that the upfront work to bring the chemical inventory reporting calculations and records under one program creates opportunities to streamline environmental compliance by eliminating duplicative work and fostering collaboration and information sharing that might be lacking among departmental personnel with environmental program responsibilities. 
  • Manage your SDS in a centralized location. Ensure that the program leads for each reporting program are all working from the same set of SDS data. As each new chemical or updated SDS comes into the facility, enter the minimum, maximum, and average composition for each chemical constituent in a spreadsheet and use this data to flag de minimis mixture components. Incorporate this SDS matrix into the centralized spreadsheet or database referenced above for maximum efficiency.
  • Conduct quarterly meetings for reporting program leads. Verbalizing and reviewing any new information learned during the quarter (e.g., new stack tests, waste manifests, material sampling, etc.) is a simple yet effective method to ensure that vital information is shared among program leads. Furthermore, these meetings are often step 1 in collaboration that leads to increased efficiency.

Chemical inventory programs were created to help the public and emergency responders understand the potential risks present in their communities. When a facility handles large amount of hazardous chemicals, scrutiny from the public and regulatory authorities should be expected. Implementing the recommendations included in this article and understanding the nuances across chemical reporting programs can help to minimize or even eliminate scrutiny, especially the scrutiny received for avoidable reasons-errors or discrepancies that could have been prevented through centralizing chemical inventory calculations.