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Q: In your September 2007 article, “Nitrite Violation,” you mentioned the potential nitrate reporting for SARA 313 toxic release. This got me to think about our particular situation. I just joined my present employer late last year, and we have a captive plating and metal finishing operation.

Although my main responsibility is to manage these operations, I also have environmental responsibilities for the entire facility, since the vast majority of these involve the plating and metal finishing operations.

We use a significant amount of nitric acid, and I know nitric acid contains the nitrate ion. I checked past Form R reports, and we have been reporting nitric acid. I am concerned because I cannot find any backup calculations or explanations on where the numbers on the forms came from, and they look like they had been copied from year to year. Is there something that I should be concerned about? B.W.


A: I am glad our article prodded you to research your situation, and I would say that you have three areas of concern: 1) lack of documentation to show what chemicals you need to report AND not to report, 2) lack of documentation on how you estimated the releases of the chemical as well as the rational of why you replied in the manner you did, and 3) possible reporting for nitrate compounds.

While not required by EPA regulations, we strongly recommend to our clients that threshold determinations be made for those SARA 313 chemicals manufactured, processed, or otherwise used at your facility during the past calendar year. There are a number of proprietary software programs available that can do this for you once the data is entered.

If your chemical usage is not too complex, you can easily construct a spreadsheet to perform this task each year. This task’s greatest value is not determining what chemicals to report, but what chemicals you are NOT reporting. This documentation also provides future employees guidance regarding what chemicals need to be evaluated. We typically start this process in April of each year so we have plenty of time to gather information on those chemicals that need to be reported and their related processes.

Again, while not required by EPA regulations, we strongly recommend to our clients that they prepare documentation to explain why each entry is made onto the Form R chemical reporting pages so that if the data is ever questioned by government environmental agencies or if a new person is given SARA 313 reporting responsibility, there is a clear path to the backup information and its rational. There are several good proprietary safeware programs available that can assist you, or, like us, you can create your own spreadsheet to create the documentation and reuse it each year, saving hours of time in report preparation. For a number of our clients, we have created spreadsheets in the same order as the Form R for each reportable chemical. Calculations used to estimate releases are within the spreadsheet as well as text to describe the logic of the estimate; each year, new data is entered into the spreadsheet which automatically recalculates releases and other values.
For the various reporting codes, we also include text on the spreadsheet that gives a brief description of why that code is used and applies to the chemical and its process.

Since you did not provide specific information regarding your nitric acid usage, I am not able to comment as to whether or not you should be reporting for nitrate compounds. Nitrate compounds were added to the SARA313 Toxic Release Inventory chemical list in 1995, with its first reporting date being July 1, 1996. When nitric acid is neutralized with sodium hydroxide, USEPA claims that all of the nitric acid is inadvertently “manufactured” into sodium nitrate 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 than 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 wastewater treatment = (pounds of nitric acid used) – (pounds of waste nitric acid disposed off-site) – (pounds of nitric acid “consumed” in the process) – (pounds of nitric acid air emissions).

One of the tough numbers to estimate accurately is the pounds of nitric acid “consumed” in the process; many times we assume zero to be conservative. Another way to estimate nitric to wastewater treatment is to track volumes and concentrations; concentrations can be estimated by titration or pH values using the USEPA guidance document I described below.

To estimate nitrate compounds emissions, primarily to wastewater discharge, you can assume that all that was “manufactured” is also released. However, due to its fairly inexpensive cost, we recommend analysis of the wastewater for nitrates. While analysis is not required by EPA for SARA 313 reporting, we have found that wastewater releases based upon analysis are 50 - 75% lower than those based upon calculation alone. The public relations value is well worth the small analytical costs.

There is an USEPA guidance document that metal 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-99 -006 , revised December 2000; this document is available at http://www.epa.gov/tri/TWebHelp/WebHelp/trilib.htm.

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 and prepare reports for the past 3 years; 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 http://www.epa.gov/compliance/incentives/auditing/auditpolicy.html.

Also, each U.S. EPA region has its own procedures on how they implement and enforce this policy, so be sure that your environmental attorney researches that aspect. 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. 

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