EPA Requires TRI Reporting of Small Concentrations of PFAS; Expands Supplier Notification for Lead and Other Chemicals of Concern
Earlier today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) finalized elimination of the de minimis exemption for reporting of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) under the Toxic Release Inventory (“TRI”). EPA is officially designating PFAS as Chemicals of Special Concern, for which the de minimis exemption is not applicable and, therefore, tracking and reporting of small concentrations in mixtures and products used at facilities is required.
The de minimis exemption allows facilities to ignore negligible amounts of substances in chemical mixtures when present at concentrations below 1% (or 0.1% for carcinogens) in the materials they process or otherwise use in their manufacturing process. While PFAS are widely present in numerous products and chemical mixtures due to their heat-, water- and stain-resistant qualities, typically they are present at very low concentrations. As a result, as we have discussed previously, only a relatively small number of TRI reports for PFAS have been filed with the agency in recent years. Indeed, out of the 75,890 total entries reported to TRI for all chemicals in 2021 (from approximately 21,000 facilities), EPA received a mere 92 PFAS reporting forms on 46 different PFAS from 45 facilities. In contrast, there are approximately 650 PFAS are currently in commerce from about 120,000 facilities that involve merely the handling and/or potential release of PFAS.
The final rule also makes the de minimis exemption unavailable for purposes of supplier notification requirements to downstream facilities for all Chemicals of Special Concern, which in addition to PFAS includes a number of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (“PBT”) chemicals such as lead, mercury, and dioxins. EPA contends that the change will help “ensure that purchasers of mixtures and trade name products containing these chemicals are informed of their presence in mixtures and products they purchase.” Critics contend however, that this change – particularly for lead, which is naturally occurring and widely present in the environment and raw materials – will dramatically expand the universe of materials for which downstream facilities must track the usage, disposal, and lead content, adding millions of hours to the already labor-intensive reporting burden.
When EPA proposed to eliminate the de minimis exemption, the Agency received mixed feedback. EPA and several environmental organizations argue that the exemption is a “reporting loophole” allowing facilities to avoid reporting listed chemicals, thereby diminishing public trust, reducing transparency, and keeping community members in the dark about chemicals they believe to be hazardous to human health. Industry stakeholders, on the other hand, contend that the de minimis exemption makes the TRI program dramatically more workable by limiting the scope of substances for which reporting is required. Moreover, the exemption is pragmatic and tries to avoid forcing companies to hunt for information on miniscule amounts of substances present in trace quantities that ultimately pose little to no risk.
Interestingly, EPA’s decision to scale back the exemption to the TRI reporting requirement, and thus open the PFAS reporting floodgates, coincides with the Agency’s issuance of a final Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”) rule that similarly requires companies to electronically disclose to EPA information on PFAS uses, production volumes, disposal, exposures, and hazards, dating all the way back to 2011. Together, these two rules will dramatically expand the amount of regulatory reporting industry will conduct related to PFAS.
The new TRI requirements apply starting with the 2024 reporting year (reports due July 1, 2025). A copy of the final rule is available here: Changes to Reporting Requirements for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and to Supplier Notifications for Chemicals of Special Concern; Community Right-to-Know Toxic Chemical Release Reporting.”