Follow these 6 tips to help you do TRI Reporting correctly.
Toxic Release Inventory Reporting is no joke. The EPA (and 3rd party environmental groups) are taking this increasingly seriously. Several industries, from big chemical producers to smaller concrete plants, are starting to really feel the heat.
As I'm writing this article, we've finished our round of TRI Reporting for our clients for this year. July 1st has come and gone, and everyone who should have reported, at this point, has either reported, or missed the boat. Despite the industry you're in, we've noticed some similarities in the process of conducting TRI Reporting for our clients.
The thing is, many of our clients come to us after they've realized they've been conducting reporting incorrectly (either through their own realization or an enforcement action) or they're feverous they're reporting incorrectly (since reporting wrong is just as bad as not reporting).
So, we usually take a few days after the deadline to reflect on the process and collect our thoughts. We figure out what worked, and what didn't, identify common problems our customers have had in the past, etc. Here's a review of some of the main things we've seen, heard, or had to deal with for TRI Reporting this year.
Top 5 TRI Reporting Tips
Are these going to help you get your reporting done 100% correctly? We hope so, but can't guarantee it. We've seen expert environmental managers at large organizations report incorrectly, through no fault of their own. We highly encourage you to educate yourself, talk to experts in your industry, and when in doubt, look into an environmental audit.
Having said that, here's the top 6 tips for doing TRI Reporting right!
TRI Reporting Tip #1 - Stop procrastinating!
I admit, I was one of those kids in school who wrote his paper the night before it was due. With TRI Reporting, that's an exceptionally bad idea! Like every year, most people wait until the very end to report. This seems to be a common trait for people across all industries. We heard of people pulling all-nighters to get the reporting done.
Why?? You can start getting underway with reporting as early as January 1st, so why wait until the last minute?
It makes the job a lot harder and stressful, and significantly raises the chances of making a (costly) mistake!
If you report wrong, even if you are reporting in good faith and think you're doing it correctly, it's the same as not reporting at all. No on gets any slack with this regulation.
Start early and stop procrastinating!!
TRI Reporting Tip #2 - Get educated!
There are still a lot of facilities out there who have never heard of it. There's even more out there who confuse this with Tier II / Community Right to Know Reporting.
We’re constantly surprised by how many facilities have no idea about Toxic Release Inventory Reporting. Industries need to take heed and get educated. From companies to trade associations to regulators, there's a ton of confusion out there about what's required, what's not, and what really needs to be done.
The USEPA doesn't care that you've never heard of this regulation, or you're confused, or your boss told you don't worry about it, or your trade association didn't fully educate you on the subject.
There's a legal term that is "Ignorantia juris non excusat" which means "ignorance of the law excuses not". More or less, just because you don't know about the law doesn't mean you can't get in trouble if you don't follow it. Remember though, we're not lawyers so this isn't legal advice.
When the USEPA or an environmental group rolls in to enforce Toxic Release Inventory Regulations, they'll throw the book at you for non-compliance no matter what your story is.
Feigning ignorance isn't a defense, so get educated ASAP!
TRI Reporting Tip #3 - Don't copy last year's report!
What would happen if you filled in this year's tax return with the exact same numbers as you did last year?
You'd probably get audited and people would call you an idiot!
So, just like completing a tax return, make sure you use the right numbers! If you're conducting TRI Reporting for the 2016 reporting year, then make sure you use 2016 numbers! If you're numbers don't match up, you're reporting wrong.
Out of all the tips up here, this is seriously a no-brainer. If you're not going to report on the correct numbers, then you're not conducting TRI Reporting correctly at all.
It's up to you to conduct reporting correctly. Get new SDS sheets. Take samples of your raw material to a lab and have them analyze what's in the product you're using. Make sure you're reporting on the right year's volume of material. Simply relying on past reports as the basis of information can lead to huge reporting errors.
Things can, and do, change annually, so don't copy and paste last year's report!
TRI Reporting Tip #4 - Be a detective!
This piggy-backs off the last tip, and this is a common issue I see a lot.
Let's say you're a concrete company and you're using cement from XYZ Materials. Last year you had a sample analyzed and found out there's lead in your cement, and at the volume you used at your facility, you had to report it. This year you've switched suppliers and are using cement and fly ash from ABC Materials. Your new rep says "Lead?! No way! Not in our product!" so you take his word for it.
I hate to sound like a know-it-all, but your rep is full of it. There's lead in cement!
Even if the lead is in very small, trace quantities of less than 1% of the product (which it almost certainly is), you still need to consider to. Since lead is a PBT chemical, there are rules that specifically say you need to find out and see if this chemical is in a product your manufacturing, processing, or otherwise using. Just because it might be there in concentrations like 0.2%, you still need to find out!
The point is, the burden is on you, the person or company who should do the reporting. You need to put in your detective hat and find out what's in your material, even if it's only there in very trace amounts.
Play Sherlock Holmes and find out what's in the materials manufactured, processed, or otherwise used at your facility!
TRI Reporting Tip #5 - Time for a chemistry lesson!
I have a story here.
A while ago, a client of ours (turns out to be a concrete plant again for an example) stated they looked into TRI Reporting and figured out they don't need to report on the nitrates found in their admixtures on-site.
Kinda odd, since nitrates are definitely on the USEPA's Lists of Lists (google that if you're unsure) of chemicals that need to be reported on, but I let them continue. They read over the Lists of Lists and didn't see the specific nitrate found in one of their products on the list, so they were off the hook!
Problem is they were dead wrong.
Chemicals can cause a lot of confusion because of their names and how they're grouped. Remember, it’s only those listed on the USEPA's List of Lists that must be reported, not just any chemical. This idea, and the issue that some chemicals are listed under a general category of compounds as opposed to being individually listed (such as nitrate compounds), still confuses many. So in this company's instance, the specific chemical was not listed, but since it was a nitrate compound, it needed to be included.
In the end, we worked together to get them up to speed on TRI Reporting, and helped them get started with reporting.
Either brush up on your chemistry or talk to an expert. This can be tricky.
TRI Reporting Tip #6 - Keep an excellent paper trail!
Not everyone needs to conduct TRI Reporting. But, if you don't need to conduct reporting, make darn sure you have a good reason. In the last tip, that concrete plant would get in trouble for not conducting TRI Reporting because they had an incorrect reason for not reporting.
If you're running an operation and go through all the steps to determine if you have to report, an you're 100% sure you don't have to report, document the reason why. Maybe you had a slow year and didn't go through the same amount of materials as last year. Maybe you switched to a new product that didn't have the same chemical make-up.
Point is, if you're not conducting reporting this year, make sure you're in the right for why you're not reporting, and put it document it! Write a letter to yourself, make a note in your Environmental Management System, send a memo to your boss, something! If you've been reporting and suddenly miss it one year, someone's going to notice. If you have a good reason you didn't report, that's ok! But, it has to be legit, valid, and correct!
Document everything you do when looking into TRI Reporting applicability.
TRI Reporting is public knowledge!
Remember, this information is available 24/7 online. It doesn't take much work for anyone (college grads, tree-huggers, concerned citizens, etc.) to hop on the USEPA's Echo Database and find out who's the big, bad polluter in their backyard.
If you're paying attention, you'll see a lot of articles the second half of the year about who the biggest toxic polluters are in your state, to your river, etc. All TRI Reporting data get reviewed and sorted through and presented online for everyone to see. If you're a big polluter, don't be surprised if you get some heat this year.
So a few lessons learned from this year’s reporting, and hopefully we all can learn from them for next year. And remember, It’s never too early to think about next year’s TRI Reporting deadline of July 1st!