On October 20, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a groundbreaking final rule that enhances the reporting requirements for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals,” have been a growing concern due to their persistent presence in various products and their potential impact on human health and the environment. This rule aims to eliminate an exemption that allowed facilities to avoid reporting information on PFAS when used in small concentrations, promoting transparency and accountability in the management and release of these substances.
The Significance of PFAS Reporting
PFAS are a class of man-made chemicals known for their resistance to heat, oils, stains, grease, and water. These properties make them useful in numerous applications, but their persistence in the environment and potential health risks have led to increasing regulatory scrutiny. Comprehensive reporting of PFAS to the TRI is crucial in understanding how these substances are managed, released into the environment, and their potential impact on communities and ecosystems.
Closing the Reporting Exemption
One of the key provisions of the EPA’s rule is the closure of the exemption that previously allowed facilities to avoid reporting PFAS when used in small concentrations. This exemption, also known as the de-minimis exemption, created a gap in reporting requirements for certain industries, including manufacturing, metal mining, chemical manufacturing, and federal facilities. The removal of this exemption signifies a significant step toward comprehensive PFAS reporting and greater transparency in the handling of these chemicals.
Supporting Informed Decision-Making
The data collected through the TRI program play a critical role in supporting informed decision-making by various stakeholders. Companies, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the public rely on this information to assess the environmental impact of facilities in their vicinity, understand chemical waste management practices, and explore pollution prevention activities. By enhancing PFAS reporting, the EPA empowers stakeholders to make more informed decisions and take proactive steps in addressing the challenges posed by these persistent chemicals.
The Role of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)
The 2020 NDAA played a pivotal role in expanding PFAS reporting requirements. It added 172 PFAS chemicals to the list of chemicals covered by TRI, establishing a framework for automatic inclusion of additional PFAS in the future. The NDAA also lowered the reporting threshold for PFAS, requiring facilities to report if they use or process more than 100 pounds of these substances. However, the previous administration’s codification of the NDAA provisions did not address the availability of the de-minimis exemption, allowing facilities to avoid reporting minimal concentrations of PFAS. The new rule rectifies this issue by designating PFAS as “chemicals of special concern” and thus eliminating the exemption for these substances.
Ensuring Supplier Notification
The final rule goes a step further by making the exemption unavailable for supplier notification requirements for all chemicals on the list of chemicals of special concern, which includes not only PFAS but also other long-lasting and bioaccumulative chemicals like lead, mercury, and dioxins. This change ensures that purchasers of mixtures and products containing these chemicals are informed of their presence, promoting transparency and accountability throughout the supply chain.
The EPA’s final rule to strengthen PFAS reporting to the Toxics Release Inventory represents a significant stride in the agency’s commitment to transparency, accountability, and public health. By closing the exemption that allowed facilities to avoid reporting PFAS in low concentrations, the rule addresses a critical gap in environmental reporting and supports informed decision-making by communities, industries, and government agencies.
How Can Businesses Avoid Costly Compliance Problems Associated with Environmental Issues?
Sound legal guidance is critical. Additionally, a proactive approach is essential for maintaining regulatory compliance. Our attorneys take an experienced, detail-oriented and collaborative approach to analyzing clients’ objectives and identifying potential issues to address them before they escalate into costly missteps.
What Agencies Are Responsible for Environmental Regulatory Compliance?
Depending on the subject matter, a multitude of state and federal agencies may come into play. They include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, California Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, California Water Quality Control Board, California Air Resources Board, and California Coastal Commission, to name just a few.
What Are the Biggest Challenges for Businesses Navigating Environmental Issues?
Environmental law is highly complex because it involves an intricate array of federal, state, and local legislation along with scientific and engineering concepts that require input from leading experts. Navigating those regulations and technical issues can be an ongoing challenge. Another major hurdle is defending against alleged violations, which may escalate to high-stakes litigation involving many potentially responsible parties. Our attorneys are well-equipped to represent clients in both regulatory and enforcement matters.
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