Litigation Over the De Minimis Concentration and Alternate Threshold Exemptions in the PFAS TRI Reporting Rules

On January 20, 2022, the National PFAS Contamination Coalition, Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists (collectively the “Coalition”) filed a complaint in the District Court for the District of Columbia challenging two final rules promulgated by EPA related to TRI PFAS Reporting.  Specifically, the Coalition asserts that two rules violate the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (NDAA) by allowing two exemptions to the Act’s PFAS reporting mandate — the de minimis concentration and alternate threshold exemptions.  These rules are “Implementing Statutory Addition of Certain Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances; Toxic Chemical Release Reporting” (85 Fed. Reg. 37,354) and the “Implementing Statutory Addition of Certain Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) to the Toxics Release Inventory Beginning With Reporting Year 2021” (86 Fed. Reg. 29,698) (collectively the “TRI PFAS Rules”).

According to the Coalition, allowing the de minimis exemption means that PFAS otherwise subject to the rule “will not be reported to the TRI because they are used in mixtures in low concentrations —even where the total amount of the PFAS manufactured, processed, or otherwise used is well over the 100-pound threshold set by Congress.”  The compliant further explains that the alternate threshold exemption permits covered facilities that release and disposal of less than 500 pounds per year of a TRI-listed PFAS to submit “a bare-bones certification rather than the detailed toxic chemical release form, reducing the information disclosed to the public.”

Adopting these rules without allowing for notice and opportunity for comment, promulgation violated the notice and comment provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, according to the Coalition.  The Coalition further asserts that the NDAA did not authorize EPA to allow an exemption for de minimis concentrations.  Nor, according to the Coalition, does the NDAA allow for alternate threshold exemptions.  The Coalition argues that “the TRI PFAS Rules are also arbitrary and capricious because they are premised on the idea that communities do not need to know about releases of small amounts of toxic chemicals, or even releases of large amounts where the chemical of concern is present in low concentrations, flouting evidence that exposure to even extremely low levels of PFAS is dangerous.”

The complaint argues that Plaintiffs’ members are deprived of critical information by the de minimis concentration and alternate threshold exemptions.   According to the Coalition, the exemptions deprive Plaintiffs of knowledge about the toxic air and water pollution that they and their families are exposed to, which impairs their ability to advocate for stronger protections from that pollution.  The absence of these data also impairs Plaintiff’s ability to “conduct the research and analysis needed to inform communities and guide policy development.”

As previously posted, EPA complied a roadmap outlining key actions and commitments on PFAS for 2024.  This roadmap states that EPA intends to propose a rulemaking in 2022 to remove the “de minimis eligibility” from supplier notification requirements for Chemicals of Special Concern for TRI reporting, and categorize PFAS as such.