The Emergency Planning and
Community Right-to-Know Act
In the last two decades, the American Public has grown increasingly concerned about the long-term health effects of chemicals in the environment.
To assure the protection of people and communities potentially exposed to chemicals from industrial settings, the U.S. Congress enacted the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). This was put into law as Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Re-authorization Act (SARA) of 1986.
Title III calls for the federal government, state governments and companies to help communities safeguard against risks associated with potentially harmful chemicals. This is done through comprehensive requirements that address emergency planning, emergency notification, and community right-to-know reporting.
Any company that produces, uses, or stores chemical substances regulated by Title III comes under the law's scope.
The law has numerous deadlines and compliance requirements that companies must meet. Some are already in effect. Others will be implemented in the coming years.
As a first step towards emergency planning, Title III requires state governors to establish State Emergency Response Commissions.
These commissions in turn designate emergency planning districts and create Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) for state regions where chemicals regulated under Title III are found.
In reality, this means almost every community in the country is affected by Title III.
The LEPCs are responsible for designing and updated emergency plans for responding to chemical emergencies within their jurisdictions. The plans must include not only procedures for dealing with fires, explosions and spills, but also for public emergency warning systems and evacuation procedures.
Title III requirements mandate that company representatives participate in the emergency planning process.
Each company that handles any of the chemicals specified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for Title III must provide a list of those substances to the state commissions and local planning committees.
These lists, which must give names, amounts and locations of the chemicals present at the chemical sites, are an integral part of the preparation of emergency response plans.
In addition, companies must provide the committees with Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each chemical. This document outlines the characteristics and effects of a chemical.
The lists of chemicals and data sheets provide emergency response teams with the information they need to respond to an emergency. They allow the teams to assess the degree of danger, both towards themselves and the community.
Title III emergency notification requirements also call for companies to immediately notify the state commission and local emergency management if certain amounts of chemicals are released accidentally into the environment.
This initial notification must be followed as soon a practical by a written report to these groups. The report must include a description of the actions taken to (1) respond to the emergency and to (2) minimize health risks to persons exposed off-site to the chemical.
Plant site exposure of employees to these chemicals is covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, not Title III.
Emergency Notification is accomplished in Allegheny County by dialing 9-1-1 and 412-473-3000.
Community Right-to-Know Reporting
An important part of Title III calls for companies to share information publicly about chemicals they handle. This requirement is meant to allow people to make informed decisions about health and safety issues that affect them.
Among this information provided for public scrutiny are the MSDS for LEPC committees, and the lists of chemicals that detail amounts and locations at company sites.
One of the more critical Title III requirements, from a public perception standpoint, calls for companies to report the annual amounts of the regulated chemicals that enter the air, water and soil.
This reporting includes chemicals emitted within government limits to air and water during manufacturing or waste disposal operations. It also includes those chemicals that escape through accidental release or spills.
The reports of annual amounts of chemicals entering the environment will be available to the public through a computer database maintained by the EPA.