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Emergency Planning & Right-to-Know Act

Written by Steve Hudgik

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The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) is commonly known as SARA Title III. SARA is commonly known as the "Super Fund," and has the official name: Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act. SARA is the federal government's program to clean up uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act created requirements for Federal, state and local governments, Indian Tribes, and industry concerning emergency planning and "Community Right-to-Know" reporting on hazardous and toxic chemicals that are present locally.

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act - History

The EPCRA law was passed in 1986 in response to concerns about the environmental and safety hazards that come from from the storage and handling of toxic chemicals. These concerns were triggered by a chemical gas leak in Bhopal, India in 1984. More than 3,900 people were seriously injured or died as a result of the accidental release of methyl isocyanate. EPCRA implements planning, information and preparation requirements aimed at reducing the likelihood of such a disaster in the United States.

EPCRA has two specific purposes:

  1. Facilitate cooperation between government, industry, interested citizens, environmental, and other public-interest organizations.
  2. Increase the public's knowledge and access to information about chemicals and their uses at individual facilities, and about their releases into the environment. Local governments and communities, working with industries using these chemicals, can use the information to improve chemical safety, protect public health, and protect the environment.

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act - How It Works

To accomplish these goals the EPCRA establishes ongoing "forums" at the local level. These are called Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC). The LEPCs are governed by the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) in each state. The objective is to have a broad representation by fire fighters, health officials, government and media representatives, community groups, industrial facilities, and emergency managers. This will ensure that everyone affected by a chemical release is involved in the planning process.

Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, SERCs and LEPCs are charged with four primary responsibilities:

  • Write emergency plans for responding to chemical accidents.
  • Establish a system to warn and, if necessary, evacuate the public in case of a chemical emergency.
  • Make information about hazardous chemicals and accidental releases of chemicals in local communities available.   This is known as the Community Right-To-Know.
  • Assist in the preparation of publicly available reports documenting the annual release of toxic chemicals into the air, water, and soil.

Key Provisions of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act

There are four major provisions of EPCRA:

  • Emergency Planning (Sections 301 – 303)
  • Emergency Release Notification (Section 304)
  • Hazardous Chemical Storage Reporting (Sections 311 – 312)
  • Toxic Chemical Release Inventory (Section 313)

EPCRA Sections 301 to 303. Emergency Planning

Local governments are required to prepare chemical emergency response plans, and to review those plans at least annually. State governments are required to oversee and coordinate the local planning efforts. Facilities that maintain Extremely Hazardous Substances (EHSs) on-site in quantities greater than the corresponding Threshold Planning Quantities (TPQs) must cooperate in emergency plan preparation.

EPCRA Section 304. Emergency Notification

Facilities must immediately report accidental releases of EHS chemicals and "hazardous substances" in quantities greater than corresponding Reportable Quantities (RQs) defined under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to state and local officials. Information about accidental chemical releases must be available to the public.

EPCRA Sections 311 and 312. Community Right-to-Know Requirements

Facilities manufacturing, processing or storing designated hazardous chemicals must make Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) available to state and local officials and local fire departments. Facilities must also report, to state and local officials and local fire departments, inventories of all on-site chemicals for which MSDSs exist. Information about chemical inventories at facilities and MSDSs must be available to the public.

EPCRA Section 313. Toxics Release Inventory

Facilities must complete and submit a Toxic Chemical Release Inventory Form annually for each of the more than 600 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) chemicals that are manufactured or otherwise used at levels above the applicable threshold quantities.

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act - Resources - EPA Reporting Assistance

EPCRA Reporting
TRI Reporting
EPA Consolidated List of Lists
EPA List of Publications

Software Applications

Computer Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO) Program (EPA)

CRTK Information Resources

Environmental Defense Fund Scorecard

Chemical Information Resources

National Library of Medicine's Toxnet
Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
ECOTOX
The Extension TOXicology NETwork

The information presented in this document was obtained from sources that we deem reliable; Graphic Products does not guarantee accuracy or completeness. Graphic Products, Inc. makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied. Users of this document should consult municipal, state, and federal code and/or verify all information with the appropriate regulatory agency.

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