In a case that may have broad implications for chemical manufacturers, Elementis Chromium has appealed the $2.57 million penalty handed down by an EPA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in November 2013. The ALJ ruled that Elementis, one of the world’s largest chromium manufacturers, had violated section 8(e) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which requires reporting information about serious health risks to EPA. In addition to the hefty penalty at stake, the Elementis case is worth watching because it signals that EPA is continuing to pursue a very broad interpretation of what constitutes reportable data under TSCA § 8(e).
In its appeal [PDF] to the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB), Elementis makes two arguments: (1) EPA’s enforcement action was barred by the federal five-year statute of limitations; and (2) the epidemiological study at issue was not required to be submitted under TSCA § 8(e).
According to Elementis, the study’s findings were consistent with previous studies and merely confirmed and corroborated risk findings already known to EPA and the industrial health community. Elementis argues that the ALJ erred in interpreting new “substantial risk information” under TSCA to include “mere differences in scientific study methods or subjects between studies.” Instead, Elementis argues that EPA was already aware of the study’s information on substantial risk of injury to human health, “namely that high cumulative exposures to hexavalent chromium lead to an increased risk of lung cancer.”
Elementis’ appeal also argues that since § 8(e) requires the “immediate” reporting of certain information to EPA, violations of the provision are not “continuing” in nature. Thus, if the five-year statute of limitations began running upon the company’s receipt of the study in 2002, EPA’s 2010 Complaint was filed beyond the statute of limitations. According to Elementis, a violation of § 8(e) is not “continuing,” since there is no clear indication in the statute that Congress intended for the continuing violation exception to apply and, moreover, the statute establishes a definite timeframe for compliance by requiring “immediate” reporting. The company’s appeal criticizes the ALJ’s interpretation of the statute, which is described as establishing a “never-ending duty to inform that begins immediately.”
Furthermore, Elementis argues that the Supreme Court’s decision in SEC v. Gabelli, declining to apply the “discovery rule” in the case of an SEC civil enforcement action for an alleged fraud, means that the EPA’s enforcement action is time-barred here. In Gabelli, the Supreme Court relied on public policy reasoning in criticizing “grafting the discovery rule onto” the federal five-year statute of limitations in actions for penalties. Elementis argues that the continuing violation exception functions like the discovery rule in Gabelli, and thus was applied by the ALJ in error.
The Response Brief from EPA Region 8 to Elementis’ Appeal Brief has not yet been posted to the EAB docket, although it is expected soon.