Common Pitfalls of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Report

Common Pitfalls of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Report


The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is a publicly available database that contains information on toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities reported annually by certain covered industry groups as well as federal facilities. This inventory was established under a federal law called the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA) and was expanded by the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990. It requires facilities in certain industries which manufacture, process, or use significant amounts of toxic chemicals, to report annually on their releases of these chemicals. The reports contain information about the types and amounts of toxic chemicals that are released each year to the air, water, land, and by underground injection, as well as information on the quantities of toxic chemicals sent to other facilities for further waste management.

Facilities with 10 or more full-time employees that process more than 25,000 pounds in aggregate, or use greater than 10,000 pounds of any one TRI chemical, are required to report releases annually. The US EPA maintains this information in the TRI.

Facilities that meet requirements must report toxic chemical release and waste management information to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State by July 1st. The data from the reports is a resource for learning about toxic chemical releases and pollution prevention activities reported by industrial and federal facilities. TRI data supports informed decision-making by communities, government agencies, companies, and others.

Reporting Criteria

Facilities that meet all the criteria below are required to submit an annual TRI report;

  • The facility has 10 or more full-time employee equivalents or a total of 20,000 hours or greater; and
  • The facility has a covered primary North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code (there are some NAICS codes that are exempt to reporting, TRI covered industries are listed on the EPA website); and
  • The facility manufactures or processes more than 25,000 lbs. or otherwise uses more than 10,000 lbs. of any EPCRA 313 chemical in one year or exceeds established lower thresholds for Persistent, Bioaccumulative or Toxic (PBT) chemicals in one year.

To determine if chemicals at your facility are manufactured, processed or otherwise used, the following definitions should help;

  1. Manufacture – to produce a 313 chemical intentionally or coincidentally. Importing a chemical (or ingredient within a chemical) also falls under this category.
  2. Process – any incorporative activity or change of form or physical state (e.g., blending, mixing and repackaging).
  3. Otherwise used – non-incorporative chemical usages such as cleaning agents and solvents.

Designated EPCRA 313 chemicals and chemical categories are subject to the reporting requirements of TRI. There are approximately 650 chemicals and 30 chemical categories that are subject to this regulation.

TRI reporting requires facilities to use GHS compliant safety data sheets (SDSs) or metal certifications to identify individual constituents of chemical mixtures and/or metal alloys. Each chemical is then summed from all sources to determine if reporting thresholds have been met.  Once a reporting threshold is met for a chemical, the facility is then responsible for disclosing how much of the chemical was “released” from the facility, meaning emitted to the air, recycled, landfilled, washed down the drain, sent to stormwater, or was treated offsite.

Pitfall – Solvent Compounds

Often overlooked areas of the TRI report include the use of cleaning chemicals, degreasers, clean in place (CIP) units and accounting for volatile organic chemicals present in common solvent-based paints that are emitted to the air and are not part of the final product entering commerce. These are some of the processes that constitute the “otherwise use” category and have a more stringent threshold of 10,000 lbs.

Pitfall – Water Treatment Byproducts

Another overlooked area lies within the water treatment process. Specifically, pH balancing of industrial wastewater. When acids are used, particularly nitric acid, there are compounds created during the process of pH balancing that must be accounted for. This category of chemicals is referred to as nitrate compounds. Therefore, a facility could report nitric acid usage but could also have to report the amount of nitrate compounds created during the pH neutralization process.

Pitfall – Metal Fabrication

The metal fabrication industry has a particularly difficult responsibility due to the many different processes that metal alloys (and all the reportable compounds within the alloys) can undergo in the production of a consumer product. Although alloys are not reportable, many of the compounds within them are (including Copper, Manganese, Zinc, Chromium, Molybdenum).  Facilities must account for welding rod use, time spent grinding on rough edges not to mention the weight of metal going through each individual process. Accounting for all releases of metal elements including how much material is sent to landfill or was recycled takes careful consideration and time to retrieve the proper data.

Pitfall – Glycol Ethers

Other opportunities in determining applicability under the TRI report, arises in the general understanding of the glycol ether family of chemicals. There have been many instances where glycol ethers and ethylene glycol are reported as the same compound, which they are not. The TRI outlines very specific glycol ethers that are reportable and has a general ‘compound’ category for materials that are not specifically called out. In these situations, the use of CAS numbers and the understanding of the general chemical categories is paramount to reporting properly and accurately.


Once the facility’s chemical information has been assessed, all usage and release data is entered into the EPA’s Central Data Exchange allowing the information to be shared, not only with Federal and State regulatory agencies, but also with the general public. For this reason, it is critical that companies carefully evaluate the assessment process and data retrieval for reportable compounds.

Failure to maintain current inventories, accurately monitor waste streams or understand processes and chemicals can lead to inaccurate reporting, leaving the facility vulnerable to regulatory enforcement. Administrative penalties range from $10,000 to $75,000 per violation, or per day per violation if facilities fail to comply with the reporting requirements.

The process can be lengthy and ample time should be taken to prepare, assess, and complete the necessary reports.

Our EPCRA department supports TRI reports for several industries, we recognize that many variations of processes exist and are available as a resource to our client base to answer questions and complete the filings.

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