The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has added per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act’s (EPCRA’s) list of reportable chemicals. Starting with reporting year 2020, impacted companies must track and compile data on the listed PFAS compounds to comply with Toxics Release Inventory (“TRI”) reporting requirements.
A brief refresher on PFAS and TRI
PFAS are recalcitrant chemicals linked to potential toxicity and bioaccumulation in humans and ecological receptors. PFAS are found in everyday items including food packaging, nonstick pans, and waterproof fabric, as well as industrial products such as aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) used to extinguish fuel fires. Chemicals classified as PFAS include an estimated 3,000 to 10,000 individual compounds, with broad variability in toxicity and chemical properties.
TRI provides information about chemical releases and pollution prevention activities reported by industrial and federal facilities. Regulatory agencies, community organizations, and companies typically use the TRI data to assess compliance and identify areas of action for reducing emissions. Annually, U.S. facilities in various manufacturing industry sectors must report the chemical quantities used at their facility above certain thresholds, followed by information on the quantities released to the environment and/or managed through recycling, energy recovery, and treatment.
What needs to be reported in TRI?
There are currently 755 individual chemicals subject to TRI reporting. On February 19, 2020, EPA released an updated TRI list that included 172 PFAS compounds subject to reporting effective January 1, 2020 for the 2020 reporting year. For PFAS compounds, the reporting threshold in the manufacturing, processing, or otherwise used categories is set at 100 pounds per annum. Usage of these chemicals must be included in the TRI submission that is due on July 1, 2021.
Because PFAS represents a relatively new class of chemicals, especially as it pertains to TRI, facilities that have not been previously subject to TRI reporting may need to complete an evaluation. For 2020, companies that manufacture, process, or use chemicals will have to determine whether their chemicals include PFAS, and if so, they will need to gather data to evaluate the need for TRI reporting. EPA provides a helpful screening tool to help facilities determine if they need to report based on factors such as their NAICS code, the types of chemicals they handle, and the types of releases that have occurred.
Reporting PFAS compounds in TRI can pose challenges
The new PFAS reporting requirements will likely introduce new challenges to the TRI reporting process. First, methods for quantifying individual PFAS compounds are still being developed. Of the 172 PFAS compounds in the TRI list, only 32 compounds are accounted for in EPA analytical methods (537.1, 8327, and 533) and most labs are able to quantify 45 or fewer PFAS compounds. Total PFAS methods are commercially available, such as the total oxidizable precursor (TOP) assay, but these are of limited value for reporting of individual PFAS compounds. For TRI reporting, the de minimis level (below which is considered too small to report) for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) has been set at 0.1% and all other reportable PFAS have de minimis levels of 1%.
Further, industries using listed PFAS will be required to quantify individual compounds being used in order to understand if they meet reporting thresholds. Little to no chemical information on PFAS is typically provided on Safety Data Sheets (SDS), which usually report PFAS content using general terms such as “proprietary mixture” or “fluorosurfactants.” Despite this limited information, the following may be considered:
- It is important to note that the aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) must have been used in the reporting year to be included in a TRI report; simply storing the chemical does not trigger reporting.
- One recent study evaluated content of several AFFF concentrates and reported total PFAS contents ranging from 0.2 to 2.5% and target PFAS compounds (including PFOA and PFOS) comprising less than 1% of the total PFAS; thus, concentrations of individual PFAS compounds in the AFFF concentrates were less than 0.002 to 0.025% of the AFFF content.
- This suggests that individual PFAS compounds, including PFOA, may be below the de minimis concentration in AFFF (this may not apply to all AFFF products). Furthermore, release of greater than 400,000 pounds of AFFF concentrate may be required to exceed the 100-pound threshold for any individual PFAS compound.
This information along with the de minimis exemptions may be factored into calculations to determine the quantity of AFFF that would be needed to exceed the 100-pound threshold for individual PFAS.
Why is TRI reporting important to me?
Overall, TRI reporting is a matter of compliance. Companies must first and foremost understand if they are required to report. If a company determines TRI reporting applies to them, they must then collect adequate data to meet reporting requirements. However, because there is often not enough readily available information regarding PFAS use, it can prove difficult to understand what needs to be reported and how companies can go about collecting sufficient data.
We can help!
We can assist in reviewing available PFAS usage information to help assess whether TRI reporting applies to you. Connect with one of our subject matter experts today to discuss your TRI reporting needs.
Mitch Olson, PhD, PE
Subject Matter Expert, Emerging Contaminants
Rajib Sinha, PE
Subject Matter Expert, TRI Reporting