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Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), also known as Title III of the Superfund Amendments Reauthorization Act, was enacted in November 1986.  The EPCRA institutes requirements for Federal, State and local governments, Indian Tribes and industry regarding emergency planning and community right-to-know reporting  on hazardous and toxic chemicals.  The community right-to-know provisions add to the public’s knowledge and access to information regarding chemicals at individual facilities, their uses and their releases into the environment.  These provisions also guide states and local communities working with facilities to improve chemical safety and protect public health and environment.   EPCRA mandates establishment of State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) by the Governor of each state.  Each governor oversees the implementation of their state’s SERC.  Each SERC designates emergency planning districts and appoints Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) for each district.

EPCRA covers four major issues:

  1. Emergency planning,
  2. Emergency release notification,
  3. Hazardous chemical storage reporting requirements, and
  4. Toxic chemical release inventory.   

Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations, parts 350-372 codifies the regulations implementing EPCRA.  Those codes cover various chemicals and the quantity of each that triggers reporting requirements.

Emergency planning under EPCRA comes under emergency response plans covered by sections 301 to 303.  These plans contain information which the community officials may rely on at the time of chemical accidents.  Section 303 provides for the development of Community response plans.  Such plans must contain the following information to aid the community officials: The plans must essentially identify the facilities dealing in chemical substances and the transportation routes of extremely hazardous substances; it must contain descriptions of the emergency response procedures both on and off site; the plan must designate a community coordinator and a coordinator(s) at the facility to implement the plan; it must outline the necessary emergency notification procedures; it must describe how probable affected area and population shall be determined by releases; it must detail about the local emergency equipment and facilities and the persons responsible for them.  The evacuation plans must be outlined.  The plan must see to it that emergency responders are provided a training program and provide its schedule.  It must essentially provide methods and schedules for exercising the emergency response plans.

The Environmental Protection Act prescribes 356 extremely hazardous substances. The LEPC’s and facilities focus their activities based on this list and their permissible quantities.  Any facility having any of the listed chemicals above its threshold quantity must notify the State SERC and LEPC within 60 days after they receive a shipment or produce such substance on site.

Emergency release notification prescribed by the EPCRA requires that facilities immediately notify the LEPC and SERC if they release any hazardous substance into the environment that equals or exceeds the minimum reportable quantity set in the regulations.  The regulations cover 356 extremely hazardous substances and more than 700 hazardous substances that call for emergency notification requirements under CERLA Section 103(a) 40 CFR 302.4.)  Initial notification shall be made by telephone, radio or in person.  In emergency requirements involving transportation incidents, one may notify by calling 911, or the operator.

Emergency notification must include the following details:  The name of the chemical released any indications whether the substance is extremely hazardous; estimated quantity of the release substance; time and duration of the release; whether the release occurred in air, water or land.  Any known or anticipated acute or chronic health risks associated with the emergency, and where necessary, requisite advice on medical attention for exposed individuals; Proper precautions, such as evacuation or sheltering in place; and name and telephone number of contact person.

A written follow-up notice must be submitted to the SERC and LEPC at the earliest after such release. The follow-up notice must update information included in the initial notice and provide information on actual response actions taken and advice regarding medical attention necessary for citizens exposed.

Under community right-to-know provisions all facilities that have MSDS maintained for chemicals held above certain quantities must submit copies of their MSDS or a list of MSDS chemicals to the SERC, LEPC, and local fire department. Section 311 of EPCRA states this provision.

List of MSDS chemicals submitted must include the chemical or common name of each substance and must identify the applicable hazard categories such as: Immediate (acute) health hazard; Delayed (chronic) health hazard; Fire hazard; sudden release of pressure hazard; and Reactive hazard.

The facilities are required to submit separate MSDS if SERC or LEPC requires so.  To increase the use of chemicals in the list exceeding their threshold limits or to start using any chemicals on the list, facilities must submit MSDS within 3 months after they are covered.  Revised MSDS should be furnished regularly.

Facilities covered by this section must submit an annual Tier I or Tier II emergency and hazardous chemical inventory form to LEPC and SERC and local fire department.  Tier I forms include aggregate information for each applicable hazard category and Tier II report contains details of specific chemicals.  Tier I report provides an estimate on the maximum amount of any chemical present at the facility at any time during the preceding year; report on the average amount of chemicals in each category; and the general location of hazardous chemicals in each category.  Under Tier II report a more elaborate report is submitted. It shall contain the chemical name and common name of the substances.  An estimate of the maximum amount of such chemical present at the facility during the preceding calendar year; a description on method of storage of the chemical; location of storage of the material in the facility and an indication whether owner wants the location information to be withheld from disclosure to public.  The information obtained from Tier I and II forms are available to public from SERC and LEPCs.

A Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) is submitted by certain facilities as per Section 313.  This form requires facilities to furnish Toxic chemical release inventory for specified chemicals annually.  The form covers details on releases and other waste management of toxic materials that occurred during the preceding year.  Such reporting provides information to the public about releases and other waste management of toxic chemicals.

Facilities that require furnishing TRIs are those that employ 10 or more full-time employees, that manufacture, process, or otherwise use a listed toxic chemical above threshold quantities and those facilities that are in the fields of manufacturing; metal or coal mining; electrical utilities that combust coal and/oil; resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Subtitle C hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities ; chemicals and allied products wholesale distributors ; petroleum bulk plants and terminals ; solvent recovery services.

Toxic release inventory form contains information of facilities regarding the name, location and type of business the facility is in; regarding manufacture, use and processing of the chemical; the maximum amount of toxic chemical present at the facility at a time on any day during the preceding year; quantity of the chemical entering the air, land and water annually; details of off-site locations to which toxic waste are transferred for recycling, energy recovery, treatment or disposal; and waste treatment/ disposal methods and the efficiency of the methods of each waste stream.   The details of source reduction, recycling and treatment are required to be furnished under the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990; and those details are available on line to the public.

Facilities may require chemical identity to remain a trade secret under 40 CFR part 350.  EPCRA section 323 allows such trade secrets to be disclosed to health professionals who require such information for diagnostic and treatment purposes; and to local health officials for prevention and treatment activities.  Any person may challenge trade secret claims by petitioning to EPA; who eventually review the claim and rule on its validity.

EPCRA section 325 allows civil and administrative penalties when facilities fail to comply with the reporting requirements.  Failure to provide emergency release notification and knowingly and willfully disclosing information entitled to protection as trade secret calls for criminal penalties.

EPCRA section 326 allows citizens to initiate civil actions for failure to meet the EPCRA requirements.  Citizens may initiate action against EPA, SERCs, and the owner or operator of a facility for failure to meet such requirements.

On the whole, EPCA expands the role of citizens, state and local governments in emergency planning process.  It emphasizes the importance of emergency response planning and training programs.

Inside Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act