Easing EPA Chemical Reporting Could Promote Recycling

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By Pat Rizzuto

Companies want to enlist the EPA’s help so they can recycle valuable metals and other inorganic chemicals and cut down the amount of time and money they’re spending filling out paperwork.

Some businesses said it’s easier to simply dispose of manufacturing byproducts such as wastewater rather than go through the process of determining if the materials must be reported under the primary chemicals law.

“If we could avoid having to figure out all this—whether to report—that would alleviate a substantial burden,” said Mark Duvall, a chemicals attorney with Beveridge & Diamond, P.C. He represents Guardian Industries on the Environmental Protection Agency’s newly formed Inorganic Byproducts Negotiated Rulemaking Committee.

Power utilities, electronics makers, and other businesses may not think of themselves as chemical manufacturers, but chemicals in their wastewater and other byproducts of their manufacturing processes may have to be reported the EPA—not only as wastes and released materials but also as newly manufactured compounds.

During the next two years, the committee aims to identify strategies that would allow the EPA, states, and other parties to get the exposure data they seek to oversee the safety of chemicals while making it easier for coal-fired power plants, printed circuit board manufacturers, and other industries to continue recycling inorganic chemicals they produce incidentally as they make something else.

While the committee aims to ease industries’ burdens, state regulators, tribal representatives, and public interest groups said they still want to ensure that the EPA collects data about worker, public, and environmental exposures that could occur as metals and other inorganic chemical byproducts are recycled.

The committee met for the first time June 8–9 and includes representatives from the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group; Guardian Industries, which makes glass, automotive, and building products; TTM Technologies, which makes printed circuit boards and serves as a member of the IPC-Association Connecting Electronics Industries; and the American Coal Ash Association, which represents companies including the Dairyland Power Cooperative, Duke Energy, and the Lehigh Hanson Heidelberg Cement Group. It will regroup Aug. 16–17 to ready its recommendations to the EPA for improving the reporting process before the next batch of chemical disclosures are due in 2020.

Focused on Metals

Metals are the main type of inorganic chemical the committee is focused on because metals are commodities that can be sold and reused.

Petroleum refiners, for example, use platinum as a catalyst to break down crude oil into chemicals, committee member Derek Swick, manager of regulatory and scientific affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, told Bloomberg BNA. Refiners want to recapture and reuse the catalyst, he said.

Copper is commonly used in making electronic parts.

Reclaiming such metals from rinse waters, spent etching fluids, or other manufacturing leftovers benefits the environment and helps companies’ bottom line.

There’s a good story to be told, Susan Sharkey, a chemical engineer in the EPA’s Existing Chemicals Branch, told the committee. Recycled inorganic byproducts are not thrown into landfills and recycling cuts down on new mining, she said.

Extent of Reporting Unknown

But neither the EPA nor trade associations officials on the committee could describe the extent of inorganic byproducts that companies report to the agency under the regulation they are negotiating, which is called the Chemical Data Reporting, or CDR, rule.

Data from the Toxics Release Inventory suggest manufacturers generate a substantial amount of chemicals as byproducts of their other manufacturing activities, according to information the EPA shared at a committee organizational meeting in May. “Over 20 percent of TRI forms submitted each year include byproduct-related data,” the EPA said. In 2015, the most recent year for which national TRI data is available, 21,849 facilities reported under that program.

Nevertheless, the extent of inorganic chemical byproducts manufactured and reported under the CDR rule isn’t known. The form that chemical manufacturers fill out and give the EPA to comply with the CDR rule doesn’t distinguish between intentionally produced chemicals and chemicals that are byproducts of the manufacturing of something else, said Lynn Vendinello, deputy director of EPA’s Chemical Control Division.

Some companies, such as mom-and-pop electronic parts manufacturers, may not think of themselves as chemical manufacturers and may not have recognized that the Toxic Substances Control Act defines them as such, said Fern Abrams, director of regulatory affairs for IPC-Association Connecting Electronics Industries. Those companies may not have reported because they didn’t know they had a CDR rule obligation, she said.

Yet manufacturers of goods and services other than chemicals can become chemical manufacturers—which must submit the CDR form—when they or the recyclers with whom they work process inorganic byproduct wastes in ways that cause chemical reactions. Those reactions constitute chemical manufacturing, and that triggers the Chemical Data Reporting rule requirement.

Process May Double Cost, Time

Providing the EPA with byproduct production volumes and other mandated information under the CDR rule isn’t the main problem, committee members representing diverse industries stressed—it’s the labyrinth of questions that manufacturers and recyclers have to answer to determine whether a particular waste that contains inorganic chemical byproducts has to be reported under the CDR rule, they said.

The roughly $10,000 and 90 to 140 hours it takes a company to fill out a CDR rule form for a single chemical could easily double because it’s so hard to figure out whether an inorganic byproduct must be reported, committee member Kathleen Roberts executive director of the North American Metals Council, told Bloomberg BNA.

Labyrinth

Not all chemical manufacturing that results from processing inorganic byproduct wastes is reportable, Roberts told the committee.

If the wastes are burned as fuel, used to enrich soil—as sulfur-containing wastes generated by petroleum refiners can be—or meet certain other criteria then neither manufacturer nor the recycler would have to report the inorganic byproducts under the CDR rule, she said.

If the inorganic chemical byproducts must be reported under the CDR rule, then the manufacturer and recycler have to figure out who reports or if both companies do, Roberts said. She described situations when one or the other or both companies would have to report.

Byproducts often are chemical mixtures, which adds even more complexity to the reporting challenge, said Roberts. The metals council she manages includes organizations and companies such as the Battery Council International, Barrick Gold of North America Inc., Copper & Brass Fabricators Council, Fertilizer Institute, Sporting Arms & Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, and Treated Wood Council.

Not Much Time

The committee discussed dozens of ways the EPA might be able to simplify the reporting process. Committee members intend to pare down that list to a more manageable number of ideas before their next meeting Aug. 16–17.

The committee doesn’t have much time to flesh out its ideas into specific actions, such as adding a checkbox that identifies inorganic byproducts on the CDR rule form, and possible regulatory changes. The next CDR rule forms are due in 2020.

The TSCA amendments gave the committee up to three years after the law’s enactment on June 22, 2016, to develop and publish a proposed rule. A final rule must be published within 3 1 2 years of the law’s enactment.

The committee would have to agree on regulatory changes before the statutory deadlines, the EPA’s Sharkey said. The agency needs time to propose a rule, take public comments, consider those comments, issue a final rule, and let industries know ahead of time what information they’ll have to report in 2020, she said.

In addition to regulatory procedures, the EPA will likely have to develop and work with companies to test revised CDR reporting software, Sharkey said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

For More Information

Information on the EPA's Inorganic Byproducts Negotiated Rulemaking Committee is available at http://src.bna.com/pJT.

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