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Environmental Reporting: EPCRA Tier II Reporting for Combustible Dust

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2017 changed the Tier II reporting requirements and format under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA, Sections 311 and 312). Below are frequently asked questions on how these requirements, including changes on combustible dust reporting, may impact your facilities.

Why were the EPCRA reporting requirements changed?

The agency changed the EPCRA reporting systems and its associated Tier II form to make it consistent with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) changes to the Hazard Communication Standard in 2012 (HCS 2012). Overall, the changes in the HCS 2012 and for EPCRA reporting were intended to:

  1. ensure safer management of hazardous materials at a large universe of U.S. facilities; and
  2. improve emergency response information available to local and state emergency planning authorities and first responders.

What does the Tier II reporting system do?

The EPCRA Tier I and Tier II reporting system assists Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) with developing and managing local emergency response plans. As many are aware, companies complete Tier II reports to achieve several objectives, including providing:

  1. general information on hazardous chemicals; and
  2. specific information on each hazardous chemical onsite at their facility.

This information is used by local emergency planning committees for developing or modifying their response plans in case of a fire, explosion, natural disaster or other emergency.

What did the Tier II changes require?

As part of a Tier II inventory report, a facility must designate the (1) physical and (2) health hazards associated with each hazardous chemical.

For the new reporting form, facilities for the first time were required to choose from among 13 possible physical hazards and 11 possible health hazards.

Concerns over the reporting of combustible dust

One of the new physical hazards required for Tier II reporting in 2017 was combustible dust. While feed and grain operations had no general concerns in responding to most or all of the other revisions associated with the new Tier II format, there was widespread confusion about how to properly complete the form to report combustible dust.

EPA has acknowledged industry concerns and has provided feedback to assist feed and grain operations in proper reporting

The industry associations worked with the EPA in 2018 in order to gain greater clarity and ensure proper industry compliance with the revised Tier II form reporting requirements.

These discussions covered a wide range of issues and questions. Not only has the EPA recognized there are legitimate questions about how feed and grain facilities are to report combustible dust, the agency has provided the associations significant feedback to help resolve the issue.

EPA agrees with industry that there is no accepted or uniform method for Tier II reporting of combustible dust

While grain and feed operations are already subject to the OSHA grain handling standard to ensure the control and elimination of combustible dust hazards, there is currently no accepted industry method to appropriately estimate or measure potential volumes of combustible dust at a facility. It is present in highly variable amounts as a byproduct of physical processes and its volume is based on a range of other factors. It is not “manufactured” in any traditional sense under EPCRA.

The EPA recognizes that the use of estimation methodologies for calculating combustible dust in facilities can produce unreliable and potentially arbitrary numerical results. For example, previous guidance from the EPA, and more recent guidance from a very small number of local jurisdictions, imply that a facility should assume that one-tenth of one percent of grain onsite contains combustible dusts.

The agency acknowledges the industry’s views and the leadership of the emergency planning community that an arbitrary calculation method that both conflicts with EPA EPCRA guidance on mixtures and has no technical or factual basis does not provide a meaningful estimate. For this reason, the vast majority of local and state jurisdictions do not use an estimation methodology. The agency has also acknowledged that for the purposes of Tier II reporting, it is not necessary to calculate the potential combustible dust in unprocessed stored ingredients.

EPA and industry agree on the following approach for combustible dust reporting

The EPA agrees that there are two simple, reasonable options to complete the Tier II form for combustible dust, which ensures emergency planners have the relevant information they need about potential combustible concerns at a feed or grain operation.

See the two reporting options below, depending on the nature or size of your feed or grain operation:

Reporting Option #1 – If combustible dust is likely present at any level below the 10,000-pound threshold

If a facility has a reasonable basis to conclude that it has some volume of combustible dust, but it is below the 10,000-pound threshold, then a facility should:

  1. check the “combustible dust” box in the “physical hazards” column; and
  2. check the “below reporting thresholds” box in the last column (the “additional reporting information” column) of the Tier II form.

Reporting option #1 is likely most appropriate for most facilities. EPA has concluded that there is no obligation for a facility to provide any further information if the “below reporting thresholds” is checked.

Reporting Option #2 – If combustible dust is likely above the 10,000-pound threshold

If a facility has a reasonable basis to estimate that it may have combustible dust above the 10,000-pound threshold, then it should:

  1. check the box in the “physical hazards” column; and
  2. complete the “inventory” column using an estimation method or calculations based on the facility’s best professional judgment.

This option may be more applicable for those facilities that collect and store combustible dust in a bin or container.

Reminder: Certain local or state jurisdictions may require additional reporting

While the EPA agrees with industry on the two options for reporting above, facilities may be subject to additional local or state Tier II reporting requirements for combustible dust.

You may need to check your county or state requirements to determine whether this may be the case and complete your Tier II report accordingly.

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