By Eric Althoff
Each year, Rose Mock pores through almost 50 reports, scanning for information that will tell her whether the consuming facilities to which her company sells scrap are environmentally compliant. The hefty stack of paperwork costs her company, Allied Scrap Processors (Lakeland, Fla.), about $2,000 a year, and it takes her a few hours to interpret the information in the reports. She sees it as time and money well spent. “I sleep better at night” knowing that the information can help her company avoid Superfund liability, she says. “When you’re a responsible company, you want to sell to responsible companies.”
Mock purchases those reports from ISRI’s Superfund Recycling Equity Act Reasonable Care Compliance Program. Under the federal Superfund law, scrap processors and brokers who have shipped materials to a scrap consumer’s facility that is later deemed a Superfund site could be liable for cleanup costs—a situation that could quickly bankrupt many companies. But under the Superfund Recycling Equity Act, which Congress passed in 1999, recyclers can defend themselves against third-party Superfund liability by meeting a few requirements, one of which is showing they took “reasonable care” to determine the environmental compliance status of consumers’ operations before sending recyclable material to them.
ISRI’s SREA Reasonable Care Compliance Program helps you demonstrate that reasonable care. Through it you can purchase reports that contain information on your downstream vendors’ compliance with federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations. The information is all from public records, but tracking that information down on your own for each consuming facility to which you send scrap could be someone’s full-time job. ISRI launched the program more than a decade ago to make the information more easily available at a substantially discounted price.
The SREA reports help you understand your risk and give you information you need to protect yourself against being held partially responsible for a Superfund cleanup, says John Day, ISRI’s environmental health and safety manager. “Nobody is bulletproof from Superfund,” he says, but think of the SREA reports as your Kevlar vest—routinely purchasing them and considering the information they contain can give you a much higher degree of protection than you’d have otherwise.
ISRI has made significant changes to the SREA Reasonable Care Compliance Program over the past two years. Whether you routinely order SREA reports or are learning about the program for the first time, here’s what you need to know.
ISRI’s using a new vendor. In 2017, ISRI solicited new bids for the SREA program contract and selected EHS consulting firm KERAMIDA (Indianapolis) to create the reports and design and manage the ordering website. KERAMIDA “seemed to offer a package that would result in a better process, and do that at a lower cost to ISRI,” says Stephen Moss, vice president of aluminum broker Stanton A. Moss Inc. (Bryn Mawr, Pa.), who was on the team that chose the new vendor and now chairs ISRI’s SREA Working Group. The reports provide the same kind of compliance information as before, says Wesley Fleming, senior project engineer for KERAMIDA’s EHS compliance division. “KERAMIDA gathers information from multiple sources, searching through thousands of databases to glean the information contained in your SREA report,” he says.
A new website makes report ordering easier. The new, streamlined interface KERAMIDA introduced for the SREA report ordering portal last year is easier to navigate, and it made further improvements this year. When ISRI hired KERAMIDA, “the ordering portal was rebuilt from scratch,” Moss says. “Our old vendor just adapted something they had built. The [KERAMIDA] portal has better ISRI branding and looks technologically up to date.”
The portal lets you click on the company and facility whose report interests you or enter a new one, Fleming says. Moss points out a time-saving feature that’s been restored to the site this year: You can “order reports on all the [facilities] you asked for in the previous year with just one click.”
ISRI asked KERAMIDA to make a few improvements to the site based on member feedback in the past year. Previously members could accidentally order duplicate reports; now the system will send you an alert if you try to duplicate your order. Also, some users reported they were temporarily unable to download all their requested reports at the same time; that should not be an issue this year. “The 2019 version is going to be even more user-friendly than the 2018 version” of the website, Day says. (Visit isri.org/srea or order.keramida.com to order.)
You can order SREA reports all year long. ISRI members previously could only order SREA reports during an “open season” between April 3 and May 30. As of Feb. 15, recyclers can now order the reports all year long. “The new ordering period will allow members to start ordering earlier in the year and to have the opportunity to continue to order until late into the year,” Moss says. “We believe that this new process will allow companies to receive their reports sooner.” Further, if you want to sell material to a new company or facility, you now can order a report on that entity right away—you don’t have to wait for the next open season.
Later this year ISRI members will be able to request the previous year’s report for a newly identified customer if that report is in the system. “This will help members review the compliance of a new customer site before they make the first shipment,” Day says.
All reports are now one price for ISRI members. SREA report pricing has changed, too. ISRI previously charged $40 for reports ordered during the open season and $300 for unique reports ordered after that period. ISRI members now will pay a flat rate of $40 per report. The retail value for these reports is $1,000 or more, so the subsidized, reduced rate is a cost-effective way to take steps to stay in compliance and avoid what could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs due to Superfund liability, Day says.
When ordering your reports, consider ordering one on your own processing facilities, if you have them, as a check of your compliance as well—and to find out if there are any errors in the regulatory equivalent of your permanent record. “It gives [you] an opportunity to see what [your] customers would see from a due diligence standpoint,” Day says. If you find an error, contact the agency that’s the source of it or contact Keramida for assistance tracking down the source, he says.
ISRI is opening the program to nonmembers—at a premium. The SREA Reasonable Care Compliance Program has been for ISRI members only since its launch, but ISRI will soon offer nonmembers the chance to purchase these reports. “This is a potential opportunity to expose ISRI to new companies who may not have previously considered being members,” Moss says. Nonmembers will pay substantially more for the SREA reports—$400 per report compared with $40—so the math will soon show them it’s in their best interests to join, he says. “This is a win-win for ISRI, as it hopefully helps bring in more members by showing another way ISRI delivers incredible value,” Moss says. “And [even] if not, ISRI generates more revenue for a program that is expensive but essential.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the confidentiality the program provides. When KERAMIDA compiles a report on a scrap consuming facility for the SREA Reasonable Care Compliance Program, that facility will never know which company or companies ordered it, says Danielle Waterfield, ISRI’s senior director of government relations and assistant general counsel. And as ISRI staff members can attest, the consuming facilities have tried to get that information. “[Someone] asked me four different ways, ‘Who ordered this report?’ and I said, ‘Sir, we can’t report that,’” Day says.
KERAMIDA also takes confidentiality seriously, Fleming says. “KERAMIDA will never disclose the name of an ISRI member to a consuming facility or environmental agency as part of our [report-creation] process,” he says, and KERAMIDA does not sell client information to third-party marketers. The secure ordering portal requires a unique user ID and password for each person ordering reports, and every report is custom to the company that ordered it, Moss says, noting that you shouldn’t share or retransmit reports once you download them. Day can access the KERAMIDA site to assist members who have questions or problems with their orders.
ISRI keeps track of which ISRI member companies use the program each year, how many members use the program, and how many reports they order. In 2018, about 29 percent of ISRI members participated, ordering a total of 8,240 reports. “While the SREA program has seen increased participation, too many ISRI members are leaving themselves vulnerable by not ordering reports,” Moss says.
Deciphering and deciding
Once you have your reports in hand, it can take some time to read through them. The reports contain a lot of information that can be somewhat difficult to parse, Fleming says. “Due to the volume of information obtained, the final report appendices can be quite long,” he says. Start with the report summary, which boils down the data into more digestible bites, he recommends. “The final report [summary] contains a bulleted list of our findings, written in simplified terms, with the end user in mind.”
Reading the report is just the first step in the “reasonable care” process. After looking at the data, you must decide “whether there is potential for Superfund liability based on the current track record of the company you are doing business with,” Moss says. Look through each report to see “what environmental issues a site may or may not have had,” Day says. “Depending on the number and type of environmental issues” you discover, you will need to decide whether to continue shipping material to that facility.
It’s not enough to simply read the report and put it aside, Waterfield cautions. “Protection is not provided for those who ship to facilities not in compliance,” she says, “so [members] must read the reports they order, make a business decision on whether the facility is in compliance before shipping, and make a notation of the reasons for their decision in the file.” ISRI will offer guidance on how to read and decipher SREA reports at a workshop at ISRI2019 in Los Angeles and a similar workshop at the spring ISRI Safety and Environmental Council meeting May 21–23 in Nashville, Tenn.
If you’re still having trouble deciding whether a consuming facility might expose you to Superfund liability, you have several options. Included in the SREA report is a sample document you can send to the site to ask them about their compliance, Day says. You can also call the consumer directly to discuss the report’s findings with them, then provide a record of the conversation in your SREA report. Also consider calling your lawyer for help, Waterfield says. (ISRI is not able to interpret reports or give you advice on your next steps, she notes.) For a fee, KERAMIDA and similar environmental companies can also provide additional investigative services, “including on-site investigation [and] additional follow-up with regulatory agencies,” Fleming says.
It’s critical for recyclers to obtain their SREA reports and get help interpreting them if needed, Mock says. “You don’t want something coming back to bite you.” The information in her SREA reports has been a valuable asset for her company, she says. “To me, ISRI having the foresight to do this program and make it available to us is priceless.”
Eric Althoff is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va. Scrap Senior Reporter/Writer Megan Quinn contributed to this story.