Last month, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled on a relatively rare Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) enforcement case, ordering Elementis Chromium to pay a $2.57 million penalty for violating TSCA § 8(e), a provision of the law that required the company to disclose information about serious health risks. The ALJ found that Elementis Chromium, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of chromium chemicals, failed to notify EPA of a study finding substantial risk of injury to human health from exposure to hexavalent chromium.
The November 12, 2013 decision [PDF] is the latest development in an enforcement action that EPA initiated in 2010. At issue in the case was an industry-backed study documenting health impacts – including increased cancer risks – on workers in chromium processing plants: EPA contended that the study filled a “data gap” in the literature, while Elementis argued, among other defenses, that EPA was already adequately informed of the information. However, the ALJ interpreted “information” broadly, following EPA guidance, in concluding that the study in question presented new substantial risk information about occupational hexavalent chromium exposure. Chief ALJ Susan Biro also thoroughly discussed and ultimately rejected Elementis’ contention that the study fell under an exception to TSCA § 8(e) as merely “corroborative of well-established adverse effects.”
The decision is also notable for its discussion interpreting the EPA’s penalty policy on “attitude,” a sub-factor of “culpability.” ALJ Biro increased the penalty amount by 10% for attitude, citing Elementis’ “bad faith” and attempts to influence the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s exposure limits for chromium while keeping the study information in its “back pocket.” The decision concluded: “Over time, …the frontier in risk assessment is always going to be studying lower and lower exposures…. This decision takes into account that Congress intended to place the onus for understanding that frontier on the industries whose workers may be at risk.”
The decision becomes final 45 days after its issuance unless Elementis chooses to appeal to the Environmental Appeals Board.