The EPA oversees two major reporting programs aimed at facilitating immediate response and long-term cleanup of hazardous substances released into the environment. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)—also known as Superfund—was enacted in 1980 and authorizes the Federal government to respond directly to releases of hazardous substances. In 1986, Congress enacted the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), which sets standards for sharing of critical information between chemical facilities and their surrounding communities.
The Big Picture: Intent
At the most basic level, there is a difference in the intent of each law. Reporting releases under the Comprehensive Emergency Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) is focused on reporting releases to make sure they are then cleaned up properly, while reports under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) are more focused on reporting releases that have the potential to negatively impact the community outside a facility. Or, to put it another way, CERCLA is focused on preventing another Love Canal or Valley of the Drums, while EPCRA is focused on preventing another Bhopal Disaster.
CERCLA Release Reporting
WHAT: If a reportable quantity of any hazardous substance is released.
FROM: A facility, including “any building, structure, installation, equipment, pipe or pipeline, well, pit, pond, lagoon, impoundment, ditch, landfill, storage container, motor vehicle, rolling stock or aircraft.” [40 CFR 302.3]
TO: The Environment, including any and all surface water, ground water, drinking water supply, land surface, subsurface strata, or ambient air within or under the jurisdiction of the United States [40 CFR 302.3] (Note: this means even if the release does not leave your property, you must still report.)
WHEN: Immediately upon meeting/exceeding that substance’s reportable quantity (in a single release or in any combination of releases that occur within 24 hours of each other). (Reportable quantities, or “RQs”, ranging from 1 to 5,000 pounds are specified for each hazardous substance listed in 40 CFR 302.4.)
TO WHOM: The National Response Center (NRC).
HOW: By phone. You can reach the NRC at 800-424-8802.
FOLLOW-UP: No follow-up written report required under Federal regulations.
Note: The emergency notification and response functions of CERCLA are administered Federally. Some state-level environmental protection agencies have similar overlapping programs. These state-level programs may include additional substances, set alternate reportable quantities, and require distinct immediate notifications and/or written reports after the fact.
EPCRA Release Reporting
WHAT: If any hazardous substance listed at 40 CFR 302.4 OR extremely hazardous substance listed at 40 CFR 355 Appendix A is released.
FROM: A facility, meaning “all buildings, equipment, structures, and other stationary items that are located on a single site or on contiguous or adjacent sites and which are owned or operated by the same person … for purposes of emergency release notification, the term includes motor vehicles, rolling stock, and aircraft.” [40 CFR 355.61]
TO: The environment, including all water, air, and land. [40 CFR 355.61]
WHEN: Immediately upon meeting/exceeding that substance’s reportable quantity (in a single release or in any combination of releases that occur within 24 hours of each other), IF the release “could result in exposure to persons outside the boundaries of the facility.” [40 CFR 355.43]
FOLLOW-UP: A follow-up written report must be submitted to any LEPC or SERC to whom a phone call was made, “as soon as is practicable” after the release. [40 CFR 355.43]
Identify and meet your legal responsibilities under the EPA’s major programs! The Complete Environmental Regulations Workshop provides an overview of the core elements of CERCLA, EPCRA, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, TSCA, FIFRA, and more. Prepare your facility for effective compliance, prevent harm to the environment, and avoid the high costs incidents and releases.