The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA): A Summary
The Emergency Planning and Community
Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA):
Updated November 17, 2008
Specialist in Environmental Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
The Emergency Planning and Community
Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA): A Summary
This report summarizes the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-
Know Act (EPCRA) and the major regulatory programs that mandate reporting by
industrial facilities of releases of hazardous chemicals to the environment, as well as
local planning to respond in the event of significant, accidental releases. The text is
excerpted, with minor modifications, from the corresponding chapter of CRS Report
RL30798, Environmental Laws: Summaries of Statutes Administered by the
Environmental Protection Agency, which summarizes 12 major environmental
statutes. This report will be updated at the beginning of the first session of each new
Congress, or sooner if Congress enacts a law that substantively changes the statute.
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (42 U.S.C.
11001-11050) was enacted in 1986 as Title III of the Superfund Amendments and
Reauthorization Act (P.L. 99-499). In Subtitle A, EPCRA established a national
framework for EPA to mobilize local government officials, businesses, and other
citizens to plan ahead for chemical accidents in their communities. EPCRA required
each state to create a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC), to designate
emergency planning districts, and to establish local emergency planning committees
(LEPCs) for each district. EPA is required to list extremely hazardous substances,
and to establish threshold planning quantities for each substance. The law directs
each facility to notify the LEPC for its district if it stores or uses any “extremely
hazardous substance” in excess of its threshold planning quantity. LEPCs are to
work with such facilities to develop response procedures, evacuation plans, and
training programs for people who will be the first to respond in the event of an
accident. EPCRA requires that facilities immediately report a sudden release of any
hazardous substance that exceeds the reportable quantity to appropriate state, local,
and federal officials.
Subtitle B directs covered facilities annually to submit information about the
chemicals that they have present to the LEPC, SERC, and local fire department. In
addition, manufacturers and other facilities designated by EPA must estimate and
report to EPA annually on releases from their facilities of certain toxic chemicals to
the land, air, or water. EPA must compile that data into a computerized database,
known as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). Generally, all information about
chemicals that is required to be reported to LEPCs, SERCs, or EPA is made available
to the general public, but EPCRA authorizes reporting facilities to withhold the
identity of a chemical if it is a trade secret. Citizens are given the authority to bring
civil action against a facility, EPA, a governor, or an SERC for failure to implement
In troduction ..................................................1
Subtitle A: Emergency Planning and Notification.....................1
Subtitle B: Reporting Requirements...............................2
Subtitle C: General Provisions....................................5
Information for Health Professionals...........................5
Right to Know............................................5
List of Tables
Table 1. Major U.S. Code Sections: Emergency Planning and
Community Right-to-Know Act..................................6
The Emergency Planning and Community
Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA): A Summary
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)
establishes requirements and a framework to ensure that the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), state and local governments, and the private sector will
work together to control and, if necessary, respond to releases of hazardous chemicals
to the environment. This report describes key provisions of EPCRA. In addition, it
provides several references for more detailed information about the act, and a table
that cross-references sections of the U.S. Code with corresponding sections of the act.
The report highlights key provisions rather than providing a comprehensive inventory
of the act’s numerous sections, and addresses authorities and limitations imposed by
the statute, rather than the status of implementation or other policy issues.
The sudden, accidental release in December 1984 of methyl isocyanate in an
industrial incident at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, and the attendant loss
of thousands of lives and widespread injuries motivated many in Congress to support
legislation to reduce the risk of chemical accidents in the United States. The
Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (42 U.S.C. 11001-11050)
was enacted in 1986 as Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization
Act (P.L. 99-499). EPCRA established state commissions and local committees to
develop and implement procedures for coping with releases of hazardous chemicals,
and mandated annual reporting to government officials on environmental releases of
such chemicals by the facilities that manufacture or use them in significant amounts.
EPA facilitates planning, enforces compliance when necessary, and provides public
access to information about environmental releases of toxic chemicals.
Subtitle A: Emergency Planning and Notification
EPCRA established a national framework for EPA to mobilize local government
officials, businesses, and other citizens to plan ahead for possible chemical accidents
in their communities. Subtitle A requires local planning to respond to sudden
releases of chemicals that might occur in the event of a spill, explosion, or fire. It is
intended to ensure that responsible officials will know what hazardous chemicals are
used or stored by local businesses and will be notified quickly in the event of an
Under Section 301, each state is required to create a State Emergency Response
Commission (SERC), to designate emergency planning districts, and to establish
local emergency planning committees (LEPCs) for each district. Section 302 requires
EPA to list extremely hazardous substances and to establish threshold planning
quantities for each substance. Originally, Congress defined chemicals as “extremely
hazardous substances” if they appeared on a list EPA published in November 1985
as Appendix A in “Chemical Emergency Preparedness Program Interim Guidance.”
However, EPA has authority to revise the list, and the threshold quantities of
chemicals. Based on listing criteria, the intent appears to be to include only chemicals
in quantities that could harm people exposed to them for only a short period of time.
The law directs each facility to notify the LEPC for its district if it stores or uses any
“extremely hazardous substance” in excess of its threshold planning quantity.
Section 303 directs LEPCs to work with facilities handling specified “extremely
hazardous substances” to develop response procedures, evacuation plans, and training
programs for people who will be the first to respond in the event of an accident.
Upon request, facility owners and operators are required to provide an LEPC with
any additional information that it finds necessary to develop or implement an
Section 304 requires that facilities immediately report a sudden release of any
“extremely hazardous substance” or any “hazardous substance” (a much broader
category of chemicals defined under the Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)) that exceeds the reportable quantity to
state, local, and federal officials.1 Releases of a “hazardous substance” also must be
reported to the National Response Center under CERCLA. (For more on CERCLA,
see CRS Report RL30798, Environmental Laws: Summaries of Statutes Administered
by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which includes a summary of
Subtitle B: Reporting Requirements
Subtitle B establishes various reporting requirements for facilities. The
information collected may be used to develop and implement emergency plans, as
well as to provide the public with general information about chemicals to which they
may be exposed.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 (OSHAct) requires most
employers to provide employees with access to a material safety data sheet (MSDS)
for any “hazardous chemical.” This “right-to-know” law for workers aims to ensure
that people potentially exposed to such chemicals have access to information about
the potential health effects of exposure and how to avoid them. EPCRA, Section
311, requires facilities covered by OSHAct to submit an MSDS for each “hazardous
chemical” or a list of such chemicals to the LEPC, the SERC, and the local fire
department. EPA has authority to establish categories of health and physical hazards
1 Under CERCLA Section 102(a), a “hazardous substance” includes any “elements,
compounds, mixtures, solutions, and substances which, when released into the environment
may present a substantial danger to the public health or welfare or the environment.”
Included in this definition are substances listed under the authority of any of the major
environmental statutes (see CERCLA Section 101(14)).
and to require facilities to list hazardous chemicals grouped by such categories in
their reports. An MSDS need only be submitted once, unless there is a significant
change in the information it contains. An MSDS must be provided in response to a
request by an LEPC or a member of the public. The Occupational Safety and Health
Administration has defined “hazardous chemicals” in the Code of Federal
Regulations, Title 29, at Section 1910.1200(c).2
EPCRA, Section 312, requires the same employers to submit annually an
emergency and hazardous chemical inventory form to the LEPC, SERC, and local
fire department. These forms must provide estimates of the maximum amount of the
chemicals present at the facility at any time during the preceding year; estimates of
the average daily amount of chemicals present; and the general location of the
chemicals in the facility.3 Information must be provided to the public in response to
a written request. EPA is authorized to establish threshold quantities for chemicals
below which facilities are not required to report.
Section 313 mandates development of the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), a
computerized EPA database of “toxic chemical” releases to the environment by
manufacturing facilities.4 It requires manufacturing facilities that manufacture, use,
or process “toxic chemicals” to report annually to EPA on the amounts of each
chemical released to each environmental medium (air, land, or water) or transferred
off-site. EPA makes TRI data available in “raw” and summarized forms to the
general public. The public may obtain specific information (e.g., about a particular
manufacturing facility) by submitting a request in writing to EPA. EPA distributes
written and electronic, nationwide and state-by-state summaries of annual data. Raw
data and summaries also are available on the EPA and other websites.5
EPCRA, Section 313, generally requires a report to EPA and the state from each
manufacturer with 10 or more employees and who either uses 10,000 pounds or
manufactures or processes 25,000 pounds of any “toxic chemical” during the
2 EPCRA does not cover foods, food additives, or other substances regulated by the Food
and Drug Administration; solids in a manufactured item to the extent exposure to people or
the environment does not occur; substances used for personal or household purposes;
substances used in research or hospitals; or substances used in routine agricultural
3 EPCRA allows facilities to report aggregate amounts of chemicals with similar health and
environmental effects. This is called “Tier I” information. However, chemical-specific
information (“Tier II”) must be provided on request (under certain conditions) to an SERC,
LEPC, fire department, or the public.
4 “Toxic chemicals” are substances that may sicken people who are exposed to them in
relatively small amounts by eating, drinking, or breathing, or through skin absorption. The
term “hazardous substance” is broader, including toxic chemicals, but also substances that
are explosive, flammable, corrosive, or otherwise harmful.
5 See, for example, EPA’s Envirofacts, TOXNET operated by the National Library of
Medicine, or Right-to-Know Net, provided by OMB Watch: respectively,
[http://www.epa.gov/enviro/html/toxic_releases.html], visited November 17, 2008;
[http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/htmlgen?TRI], visited November 17, 2008; and
[http://www.rtknet.org/], visited November 17, 2008.
reporting year. However, EPA may adjust (and has adjusted in the past) these
thresholds for classes of chemicals or categories of facilities.
EPCRA enumerates the following data reporting requirements for each covered
chemical present at each covered facility:6
!whether it is manufactured, processed, or otherwise used, and the
general category of use;
!the maximum amount present at each location during the previous
!treatment or disposal methods used; and
!amount released to the environment or transferred off-site for
treatment or disposal.
EPCRA requires reporting by manufacturers, which the law defines as facilities
in Standard Industrial Classification codes 20 through 39.7 The law authorized EPA
to expand reporting requirements to additional industries. EPA promulgated a rule
May 1, 1997, requiring reports on toxic releases from seven additional industrial
categories, including some metal mining, coal mining, commercial electric utilities,
petroleum bulk terminals, chemical wholesalers, and solvent recovery facilities (62
Federal Register 23834).8
The original statute specified 313 “toxic chemicals” or categories of chemicals
for which reporting was required, but EPCRA gave EPA authority to add or delete
chemicals from the list either on its own initiative, or in response to citizen petitions.
EPA has removed more than 15 and added roughly 350 chemicals (or categories) to
the original list. The listing criteria specified in Section 313(d)(2) authorize EPA to
add a chemical when it is “known to cause or can reasonably be anticipated to cause”
!“significant adverse acute human health effects at concentration
levels that are reasonably likely to exist beyond facility site
boundaries as a result of continuous, or frequently recurring,
!in humans — cancer, birth defects, or serious or irreversible chronic
health effects; or
!“because of — i) its toxicity, ii) its toxicity and persistence in the
environment, or iii) its toxicity and tendency to bioaccumulate in the
6 Congress added data submission requirements for manufacturers and processors of toxic
substances when it enacted the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990.
7 Standard Industrial Codes were changed to North American Industry Classification System
codes on March 21, 2003 (66 Federal Register 13872-13887).
8 Current regulations promulgated under EPCRA may be found at Title 40 in the Code of
Federal Regulations, Part 372.
environment, a significant adverse effect on the environment of
sufficient seriousness, in the judgment of the Administrator, to
warrant reporting under this Section.”
Subtitle C: General Provisions
Subtitle C contains various general provisions, definitions, and authorizations.
Trade Secrets. Section 322 authorizes reporting facilities to withhold the
identity of a chemical if it is a trade secret, and they follow procedures established
Information for Health Professionals. Special provisions are made in
Section 323 for informing health professionals of a chemical identity that has been
withheld to protect confidential business information, if the information is needed to
diagnose or treat a person exposed to the chemical.
Right to Know. Section 324 directs EPA, governors, SERCs, and LEPCs to
make emergency response plans, MSDSs, lists of chemicals, inventory forms, toxic
chemical release forms, and follow-up emergency notices available to the general
Enforcement. Section 325 establishes civil, administrative, and criminal
penalties for noncompliance with mandatory provisions of the act. Citizens are given
the authority to bring civil action against a facility, EPA, a governor, or an SERC by
Chemical Transport. Chemicals being transported or stored incident to
transport are not subject to EPCRA requirements, according to Section 327.
Other Provisions. Section 328 authorizes EPA to issue regulations.
Definitions are provided in Section 329. Section 330 authorizes to be appropriated
“such sums as may be necessary” to carry out this title.
Gray, Peter L. EPCRA: Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
Basic Practice Series. Chicago, IL, ABA Publishing, 2002. 156 p.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics.
Available at [http://www.epa.gov/triinter/tridata/tri06/index.htm], visited
November 17, 2008.
Wolf, Sidney M. 1996. “Fear and Loathing about the Public Right To Know: The
Surprising Success of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know
Act.” Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law, v. 11, n. 2, pp. 217-325.
Table 1. Major U.S. Code Sections: Emergency Planning and
Community Right-to-Know Act
(42 U.S.C. 11001-11050)
Act, P.L. 99-499,
42 U.S.C.Section TitleTitle III
Subchapter I -Emergency Planning and NotificationSubtitle A
11001Establishment of state commissions, planningSec. 301
districts, and local committees
11002Substances and facilities covered andSec. 302
11003Comprehensive emergency response plansSec. 303
11004Emergency notificationSec. 304
11005Emergency training and review of emergencySec. 305
Subchapter II -Reporting RequirementsSubtitle B
11021Material safety data sheetsSec. 311
11022Emergency and hazardous chemicalSec. 312
11023Toxic chemical release formsSec. 313
Subchapter III -General ProvisionsSubtitle C
11041Relationship to other lawSec. 321
11042Trade secretsSec. 322
11043Provision of information to healthSec. 323
professions, doctors and nurses
11044Public availability of plans, data sheets,Sec. 324
forms, and follow up notices
11046Civil actionsSec. 326