Right-to-Know Act

Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA)

In 1986, Congress enacted the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) in an effort to enhance community awareness of and planning for the potential danger posed by hazardous chemicals.

On December 4, 1984, a cloud of methyl isocyanate gas, an extremely toxic chemical, escaped from a Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India. More than 2,500 people lost their lives. Tens of thousands more were injured, some suffering permanent disabilities.

Americans asked: "Could it happen here?"

A chemical release in West Virginia shortly after the Bhopal tragedy, though not nearly as serious as Bhopal, made the question even more urgent.

Even before 1984, there were groups trained to deal with chemical emergencies at the federal, state and local levels -- the National Response Team, Regional Response Teams, state and local response teams, and others. But there was no mandatory national program, nor were there comprehensive state and local programs everywhere in the country to deal with chemical accidents.

The Environmental Protection Agency established the voluntary Chemical Emergency Preparedness Program (CEPP) to raise state and local awareness of the potential for accidents involving extremely hazardous substances and to foster development of state and local emergency plans.

At the same time, the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA), an industry group, set up a voluntary program called Community Awareness and Emergency Response (CAER). The CAER program encourages plant managers to become more involved in their plant's operations and participating in local emergency planning.

Environmental and labor groups became more active in working toward local and national legislation to protect against chemical accidents.

More than 30 states passed laws (some before Bhopal) giving workers and citizens access to information about hazardous. More than 30 states passed laws (some before Bhopal) giving workers and citizens access to information about hazardous substances in their work places and communities. There were differences in these laws, but most required reporting of toxic chemical releases and the presence of hazardous substances. In some cases, that information is made available to the public.

With these and other efforts in mind, Congress enacted the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. The law makes many of these voluntary programs mandatory. The federal law does not preempt states or local communities from having more stringent or additional requirements. It requires that detailed information about the nature of hazardous substances in or near communities be made available to the public. The law also provides stiff penalties for companies that do not comply, and it allows citizens to file lawsuits against companies and government agencies to force them to obey the law.

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act contains four major provisions:

Planning for chemical emergencies

Toxic chemical release reporting

Highlights Of The Law

Emergency Planning (Sections 301-303):

Governors appoint state

Highlights Of The Law

Emergency Planning (Sections 301-303): committees (LEPCs).

LEPCs develop local emergency response plans and review them at least annually.

Facilities (businesses, manufacturers, etc.) notify SERCs and LEPCs if they have extremely hazardous substances present in excess of "reportable quantities" and participate in emergency planning.

Emergency Release Notification (Section 304):

Facilities notify SERCs and LEPCs immediately of accidental releases of hazardous substances in excess of "reportable quantities" and provide written reports on actions taken and on medical effects.

Hazardous Chemical Reporting (Sections 311 - 312):

Facilities submit material safety data sheets (MSDSs) or list of hazardous chemicals on-site (above "threshold quantities") to SERCs, LEPCs, and local fire departments.

SERCs and LEPCs make hazardous chemical information available to the public.

Toxic Chemical Release Reporting (Section 313):

Covered facilities submit annual reports on yearly toxic chemical release to states and EPA.

EPA establishes a national toxic chemical release inventory based on facility reports.

State and EPA make release information available to the public and communities. EPA makes the information accessible on a national computerized database and by other means.

Trade Secrets (Section 322):

Facilities may claim chemical identity information trade secret, but must substantiate the claim.

Trade secret information may be disclosed to health professional for diagnostic, treatment, and prevention purposes.

Citizens may challenge trade secret claims by petitioning EPA.

Penalties and Citizen Suits (Sections 325 - 326):

The government may assess civil and administrative penalties of $10,000 to $75,000 per day against facilities that fail to comply with the above provisions.

Anyone who knowingly and willfully fails to provide emergency release notification is subject to $50,000 in fines or five years in prison.

The SERC, LEPC, or the state or local government may initiate actions against facility owners or operators for failure to comply with Title III requirements.

Citizens may initiate civil actions against EPA, SERCs, and facility owners and operators for failure to comply with the law.

Anyone who knowingly and willfully discloses trade secret information may face penalties up to $20,000 and/or one year in prison.

State may sue EPA for failure to provide trade secret information.