A colleague of mine who owns a metal finishing facility has just received notice from U.S. EPA that he may be in violation of the Toxic Release Inventory reporting requirements for nitrate compounds since he uses nitric acid in his operation. U.S.EPA states that his fine may be as much as $50,000. I manage a job shop plating operation that also uses nitric acid, and we have reported nitric acid on our annual Form R reports. This is the first time we have heard of reporting nitrate compounds and are concerned that we may be fined. Do you have any suggestions what our next steps should be? S.C.
While I already covered this issue in my February 2000 column, this issue is worth discussing again. Your colleague has been caught by U.S.EPA’s recent enforcement program that is focusing on the nonreporting of nitrate compound releases. U.S.EPA is searching through its database of facilities that submitted a Form R for nitric acid but not for nitrate compounds, looking for those who report treating enough nitric acid on-site to warrant a possible nonreporting violation for nitrate compounds.
Nitrate compounds were added to the SARA 313 Toxic Release Inventory chemical list in 1995, with its first reporting date being July 1, 1996. When nitric acid is neutralized with sodium hydroxide, sodium nitrate is inadvertently“manufactured” in the wastewater pretreatment system. If more than 25,000 lb of sodium nitrate are “manufactured,” the nitrate compounds must be reported on the Form R. Since one mole of sodium nitrate (NaNO3) is formed when one mole of nitric acid (HNO3) is neutralized, 1.35 lb of sodium nitrate is formed for every pound of nitric acid neutralized. Therefore, to exceed the 25,000-lb threshold, more that 18,518 lb per year of nitric acid would have to be treated by the wastewater pretreatment system. The amount of nitric acid treated can be estimated by this equation: pounds of nitric acid to wwt = (pounds of nitric acid used) – (pounds of waste nitric acid disposed off-site) – (pounds of nitric acid air emissions). Since the final pH of finishing wastewater pretreatment system effluent is above 6.0, 100% neutralization is assumed, according to U.S.EPA guidance.
There are two guidance documents that finishers will find helpful in dealing with this issue: “Toxic Release Inventory: List of Toxic Chemicals with the Water Dissociable Nitrate Compounds Category and Guidance for Reporting,” EPA 745-R-96-004, revised May 1996; and “SARA 313: Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know: Estimating Releases for Mineral Acid Discharges Using pH Measurements,” U.S.EPA, June 1991. You should be able to obtain these publications through the EPA’s RCRA, Superfund hotline at 800-535-0202.
If you discover that you should have reported nitrate compounds, I urge you to immediately contact your environmental attorney to plan how to inform U.S.EPA; U.S.EPA has a voluntary disclosure policy regarding violations discovered during self-auditing activities. This policy contains specific criteria for its use and can be found at www.epa.gov/oeca/auditpol.html. If successfully invoked, self-disclosure can relieve a facility from fines and penalties, except for any “economic advantage.” However, upon receiving a notice of possible violation from U.S.EPA, you cannot be covered under this policy.