In 1980, the U.S. enacted a federal law called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act or CERCLA to facilitate the cleaning-up of sites contaminated by hazardous chemicals. Enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this law is also commonly known as Superfund. The name Superfund is derived from the special trust fund CERCLA instituted to pay for the clean-up of sites when the responsible party is no longer identifiable.
In 1986, the U.S. made significant changes and additions to Superfund with the passage of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act or SARA. The law was a direct response to the 1984 chemical disaster in Bhopal, India where methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a tank and killed approximately 3800 people and injured thousands more.
One of the biggest changes instituted under SARA was the passage of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To- Know Act or EPCRA. A separate law unto itself, it is commonly known as SARA Title III and it sets requirements for local and state emergency planning around hazardous chemicals, the right of the public to access information on chemical hazards in their community, and the reporting responsibilities for facilities that use, store, and/or release hazardous chemicals.
epcra program structure
Establishment of State Emergency Response Commissions (SERC): The Governor of each State shall appoint a State emergency response commission. The Governor may designate as the State emergency response commission one or more existing emergency response organizations that are State-sponsored or appointed. The Governor shall, to the extent practicable, appoint persons to the State emergency response commission who have technical expertise in the emergency response field.
Establishment of State Emergency Planning Districts: The SERC shall designate emergency planning districts in order to facilitate preparation and implementation of emergency plans. Where appropriate, the SERC may designate existing political subdivisions or multijurisdictional planning organizations as such districts.
Establishment of Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC): The SERC shall appoint members of a local emergency planning committee for each emergency planning district. Each committee shall include, at a minimum, representatives from each of the following groups or organizations: elected State and local officials; law enforcement, civil defense, firefighting, first aid, health, local environmental, hospital, and transportation personnel; broadcast and print media; community groups; and owners and operators of facilities subject to the requirements of this subchapter.
There is authorized to be appropriated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for each of the fiscal years 1987, 1988, 1989, and 1990, $5,000,000 for making grants to support programs of State and local governments, and to support university-sponsored programs, which are designed to improve emergency planning, preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery capabilities. Such programs shall provide special emphasis with respect to emergencies associated with hazardous chemicals. Such grants may not exceed 80 percent of the cost of any such program. The remaining 20 percent of such costs shall be funded from non-Federal sources.
Emergency Planning: Each local emergency planning committee shall complete preparation of an emergency plan in accordance with this section not later than two years after October 17, 1986. The committee shall review such plan once a year, or more frequently as changed circumstances in the community or at any facility may require. Each local emergency planning committee shall evaluate the need for resources necessary to develop, implement, and exercise the emergency plan, and shall make recommendations with respect to additional resources that may be required and the means for providing such additional resources.
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. See also Continuous Release Reporting.
Hazardous Chemical Notification and Inventory Reporting: 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. MSDSs describe the properties and health effects of these chemicals. 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.
Toxic Releases Inventory (TRI) Reporting: Facilities must complete and submit a toxic chemical release inventory form (Form R) annually. Form R must be submitted for each of the over 600 TRI chemicals that are manufactured or otherwise used above the applicable threshold quantities.
Information Publicly Available: All information submitted pursuant to EPCRA regulations is publicly accessible, unless protected by a trade secret claim.