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TRI Reporting – The Devil is in the Details

TRI Reporting - The Devil is in the Details

US EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program can be a challenging compliance program for many businesses and is likely the most publicly visible program from a reporting and data perspective. Born of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), the TRI program has morphed into an online diary of a company’s chemical balance sheet.

Each year, affected companies must report their numeric chemical amounts by July 1st to the US EPA. Affected companies include those that meet the following three requirements:
• Operate in specific industry sectors (e.g., manufacturing, mining, electric power generation).
• Employ 10 or more employees.
• Manufacture, process, or otherwise use a TRI-listed chemical above threshold quantities.


For the most part, manufacturing and processing of chemicals make sense, typically businesses generate revenue on the amount of chemical manufactured and have invoices for the amount of chemicals purchased for processing. But what about coincidentally manufactured by-products, chemicals created through wastewater treatment operations and fuel combustion, chemicals processed through industrial cleaning, and elemental components of steel released through welding activities? As with most regulations, the devil is in the details. If you have ever been responsible for calculating air emission factors to support an air permit, then you know that developing simple mass balances is not the intent (who knew that burning natural gas yielded lead, see US EPA AP-42 Section 1.4).

Even intermediate chemicals that only exist within the facility for a short time before they are converted or treated must be reported. The reporting process does not end with chemical and associated mass determination, facilities must also identify whether the chemical was released to the environment (air, surface water, or land), disposed, recycled, used for energy recovery, treated on site, or sent to a publicly owned treatment works (POTW) facility.

New for 2019 reporting year (i.e., report due July 1, 2020), the US EPA has added 13 specific nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) to the TRI chemical list. These chemicals are used in a wide variety of industrial applications and consumer products including adhesives, wetting agents, emulsifiers, stabilizers, dispersants, defoamers, cleaners, paints, coatings, personal care products, and plastics.

Given the appropriate nickname, the “Gender Bender” chemicals, NPEs are shown to severely affect aquatic environments. NPEs are moderately bioaccumulative, and when aquatic life forms (specifically fish) absorb NPEs, the organisms cannot tell the difference between the NPEs and estrogen, caused by an endocrine disruptor and estrogen mimicker. This causes male fish to produce eggs, disrupt normal male-to-female ratios, and harms the ability of fish to reproduce, which in turn will affect our commercial fish operations and food chain as a whole. As many of these consumer products have a “down the drain” use, the ultimate disposition includes the nearby waterways. Products containing NPEs have already been banned in Canada and Europe.

The first step in ensuring thorough TRI reporting is developing a comprehensive review of all processes at your facility in order to obtain an accurate accounting of all chemical amounts and subsequent identification of disposition. Inputs to this process include air permits, discharge monitoring reports, wastewater analysis reports, solid waste analysis, chemical purchase records, safety data sheets (SDSs), US EPA AP-42 guidance, piping and instrumentation diagrams, and operations process diagrams, among others. The best place to start is the US EPA’s TRI reporting homepage itself. From there, you can see what your competitors are reporting, and you can ensure you are taking a comprehensive approach because you better believe that the US EPA, through its Next Generation Compliance initiative, is doing just that.

Shaun Gilday

Senior Advisor/Principal