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ERA's Environmental Compliance Management Blog

TRI Reporting Crisis: A Precautionary Case Study

Posted by Alex Chamberlain

Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.

TRI reporting and exemption case studyWere you completely prepared for the next TRI report? Are you positive? If you're claiming any exemptions this year, be sure to read this article.

The only way to be sure in the final TRI report you file is to be confident in your environmental data management practices. If you’re not, it could spell disaster... so here’s a true precautionary tale about how poor environmental data collection cost one company a huge amount of money last year.

And it all came down to just half a pound of emissions....

How Half a Pound of Emissions Cost One Company Thousands

Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reporting is one of the primary reports used by the EPA to monitor environmental compliance. It’s a commitment that drains a lot of EH&S resources, especially since it requires a lot of data collection. It's all about knowing your base materials, and having good records about how they get processed.

On top of all that, the TRI reporting regulations contain many exemptions and exceptions that environmental specialists need to keep up with. Using these exemptions correctly is essential, but more difficult than you'd think.

TRI reporting regulations contain many exemptions and exceptions that environmental specialists need to keep up with

In this case, the company was making one of the most common TRI mistakes: not knowing the exact regulations around a particular exemption. As a result, they were disregarding a vast quantity of reportable emissions and unknowingly submitting inaccurate TRI form Rs.

The company used large metal objects manufactured elsewhere in one of its processes. The metal objects were cut in half at the facility, so the environmental team at the facility was claiming the article exemption.

The article exemption allows a reporter to discount any toxic chemicals contained in an object that has been brought into their facility,as long as that object retains at least one dimensional characteristic. 

Under this definition, cutting a metal slab seems like it would qualify for the article exemption.

However, the article exemption also states that the object cannot generate more than half a pound of toxic emissions in order to qualify. That means if the act of cutting the metal object in half generates at least half a pound of metal shavings, you cannot claim the article exemption.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened at this facility. Because they were not correctly tracking the emissions (in the form of metal filings), the EH&S team thought that the article exemption applied. This is likely the result of not having a standardized set of emission tracking and recording practices at the time. 

This means that they failed to accurately report every pound of emissions from every metal object processed throughout the year. Since it was a large facility, this amounted to a significant quantity of un-tracked emissions.

Making Matters Worse

Compounding the difficulties this facility faced was the fact that they did not keep records of the environmental data from the last five years, as the EPA mandates. However, the EH&S department wasn't to blame: the facility had recently changed ownership and the previous operators failed to keep good records and did not use a reliable system of data management. 

(One lesson we should all take from this scenario is that EH&S often gets overlooked in change management, but with dire results).

This double whammy meant that the company could not go back over their data for the last 5 years and correct the mistakes made in the last five TRI reports.This made them vulnerable and accountable for the last five years.

Ultimately, the EPA reviewed the inaccurate TRI reports and audited the facility thoroughly.The EPA found the company to be in violation of TRI reporting requirements for the past 5 years and fined them accordingly.

Prevention is the Best Defense

This case study is a good demonstration of what every EH&S manager already knows: standardizing emission/waste tracking and keeping good records is essential. Even though that's common sense, it's easy to overlook a small half pound of metal shavings - which is why a tool that standardizes data management can be a life saver. 

Needless to say, the facility has since invested in a better environmental data management system and is now using it for its TRI reporting every year. They haven't had a compliance issue since.

 

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ERA Environmental Alex

About the Author: Alex Chamberlain is a writer and blogger who regularly contributes to ERA Environmental Management Solutions' blog. You can find Alex on Google+LinkedIn & ERA's Environmental Compliance Blog

Image credit: Claus Rebler