Health groups and environmental groups worry that updates to a federal chemical reporting law could threaten public health and the environment by allowing more companies to produce and import toxic substances without letting the public know.
In Indiana alone, the law could lead to the loss of public data on billions of pounds of toxic byproducts each year.
The Toxic Substances Control Act gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the authority to require reporting, record-keeping, testing requirements and restrictions on many chemical substances and mixtures.
Changes to the law finalized this month will allow more companies and government entities to be exempt from having to report the chemicals they produce and use in commerce.
The many changes to the law include an update to the definition of “small manufacturers.” It triples the amount companies can report in sales and still claim certain exemptions and a reporting exemption for some potentially toxic byproducts if they are remanufactured, reprocessed or reused.
Previously, a company could claim a reporting exemption if its total annual sales, including that of its parent company, amounted to less than $40 million. The company would then be exempt from reporting on chemicals produced or imported at volumes less than 100,000 pounds per year.
A company would not be required to report at all if it and its parent company made less than $4 million in annual sales, regardless of the amount of chemicals produced or imported yearly.
Now, companies have a cap of $120 million for the limited exemption and $12 million for full exemption.
The update also removes the reporting requirement for some government entities that fall under TSCA jurisdiction. A city, town, township, village, school district or special district with a population of less than 50,000 will be exempt from reporting.
The EPA said the changes reduce burdens for industry and allow accurate chemical data reporting to continue.
“[Chemical data reporting] not only supports the Agency’s TSCA activities, but can be a helpful tool for states, tribes, industry, nongovernmental organizations and all stakeholders,” said EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention assistant administrator Alexandra Dapolito Dunn. “This is a continuing effort in every aspect of our program to ensure that the public has information on chemicals in commerce, that EPA has the information necessary to conduct our chemical reviews and that reporting burden is minimized and simplified.”
The updated definition was supported by trade associations representing industries in Indiana and nationwide like the North American Metals Council, which represents the mining and refining sectors of the metal industry; the American Iron and Steel Institute, which represents several companies with facilities in Indiana; the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and IPC, which represents electronics parts manufacturers.
A coalition of health and environmental advocacy groups known as Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families said the new changes to the law would reduce the accuracy of chemical data reporting, which helps communities and vulnerable populations understand potential risks and exposures they may face.
“In at-risk communities exposed to multiple sources of chemicals, this information is particularly important in pinpointing facilities that are contributing to aggregate risk and assessing the overall magnitude of their impacts." - Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families
The group said chemical data reports can help groups and individuals identify production and importation facilities in their locales, the chemicals produced or stored at these facilities and their volumes, the type of production process employed, the number of workers at each facility and the nature of the chemicals’ uses.
“In at-risk communities exposed to multiple sources of chemicals, this information is particularly important in pinpointing facilities that are contributing to aggregate risk and assessing the overall magnitude of their impacts. Other EPA databases for chemicals like the Toxics Release Inventory cover a much smaller universe of substances and lack the breadth of information in CDR reports and thus have less utility to at-risk communities,” the group wrote in comments to the EPA.
The exemptions will add to the nationwide hole in chemical substance reporting.
Right now, more than 19,000 substances are fully exempt from reports and 723 are partially exempt. Companies do not have to track how much of these substances they produce or import.
The EPA expects the definition change to eliminate chemical data reporting entirely for 127 industry sites nationwide and reduce reporting for at least one chemical for 173 industry sites.
Another major update to the TSCA rule will allow companies to be exempt for reporting the amount of inorganic byproducts, like coal ash, they remanufacture, reprocess or reuse, a major boon for utilities with coal-fired power plants along with cement and steel producers.
Coal ash is a toxic waste created by burning coal to create electricity. It can contain mercury, lead, arsenic and many other metals and elements that could cause cancer, lung and heart problems or death.
Steel slag is a byproduct of the steel-making process and damage the respiratory tract and could cause cancer.
Those byproducts can be repurposed into other products like concrete, wallboard and other roofing materials, structural fill and other construction aggregates.
The finalized updates to the TSCA law could allow the public to lose track of trillions of pounds of the byproducts.
As of the last TSCA chemical data report in 2016, Northern Indiana Public Service Co.’s Schahfer Generating Station in Merrillville produced at least 10 billion pounds of coal ash annually in the form of slime, sludges and flue gas desulfurization and at least 70 billion pounds of coal ash in dust forms. NIPSCO also reported another 70 billion pounds of coal ash in dust form from its Michigan City Generating Station and 1 billion pounds of coal ash in slag form.
Similar amounts of coal ash at individual facilities were reported by the Ohio Valley Electric Corp., Duke Energy, Indianapolis Power & Light and Vectren Corp.
Cement production facilities in Indiana reported producing billions of pounds of cement kiln dust made of different compositions. The Buzzi Unicem USA cement plant in Greencastle last reported producing at least 20 billion pounds of cement kiln dust. The LeHigh Hanson, Inc. facility in Mitchell reported producing about 130 billion pounds of cement kiln dust of different types.
Similarly, steel production facilities around the state produce billions of pounds of waste. Indiana produces about a quarter of the nation’s steel, resulting in massive amounts of slag production.
US Steel’s Gary Works in Gary reported producing about 30 billion pounds of slag in the latest TSCA data. Facilities around the state reported producing between 10 and 30 billion pounds of slag at each facility.
It’s not clear how many facilities will be allowed exemptions in Indiana due to annual sales or production, or how COVID-19 difficulties will factor in to the next reporting period, which begins June 1.