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

(This is a summary and is not intended to be all inclusive of the requirements of the law.) 



The Emergency Planning & Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA) was passed by Congress as part of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA). As a result, EPCRA is also referred to as SARA Title III. The act created a program with two basic goals: to facilitate and promote planning for chemical emergencies at the state and local levels, and to provide information to the public about the chemicals used, stored, and released in their communities. The total number of reportable chemicals listed on the Toxic Release Inventory exceeds 600 chemicals and chemical categories.

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EPCRA's emergency planning provisions are designed to help your community prepare for and respond to emergencies involving hazardous substances. These functions are carried out by each of the fifty State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) and by the Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) under each SERC's jurisdiction. On Tribal lands, the equivalent of the SERC is the Tribal Emergency Response Commission (TERC). These organizations encourage prevention, preparedness, and quick response to chemical emergencies.

Emergency plans help facilities, local and state governments respond to accidents quickly and efficiently. Careful emergency planning can make the difference between disaster and slight inconvenience. These plans outline the procedures a facility and the community should follow in responding to a chemical release. The planning process has a greater impact than the plan itself, encouraging awareness, communication, and coordination of efforts.

EPCRA's emergency planning provisions also require facilities to immediately notify SERCs and LEPCs of accidental chemical releases. This notification will activate emergency plans.

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You have the right to information about the amounts, location and potential effects of hazardous chemicals present in your community. Under the hazardous chemical reporting provision of EPCRA, facilities storing hazardous chemicals above specified thresholds must report the chemical type and storage amount to LEPCs and SERCs. The LEPC and SERC must make the hazardous chemical inventory and accidental release information submitted by local facilities available to the public.

EPCRA also created the Toxic Release Inventory or TRI program. Under Section 313 of EPCRA, covered facilities are required to submit annual reports to the EPA and the State on the amounts of toxic chemicals their facility released into the environment, either routinely or accidentally. The EPA compiles these reports into a database, known as the Toxic Release Inventory or TRI. The TRI database informs governments and the public about releases of toxic chemicals into the air, water, and land.

The EPA encourages citizens, government entities, and facilities to use these data to establish a chemical profile of their community and to initiate and direct pollution prevention activities and risk reduction analyses. Pollution prevention avoids the creation of waste, as opposed to pollution control which concentrates on managing and disposing of waste.

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EPCRA is implemented by two offices within the EPA. The Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office (CEPPO) carries out the emergency planning, emergency response notification, and inventory reporting provisions of the law. The Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) implements the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) aspects.

CEPPO is part of the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Its mission is to help local and state authorities assemble the necessary chemical information for chemical emergency prevention, preparedness, and response activities.

The branch of OPPT primarily associated with EPCRA is the Toxic Release Inventory Branch (TRIB). This branch oversees the collection of facility release reports and management of the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) database. It also administers right-to-know components of the program, and provides a toll-free EPCRA Hotline for the public at 1-800-424-9346.

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Emergency Planning (40 CFR Sections 301-303)

  • Governors appoint State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs)
  • SERCs establish emergency planning districts and appoint, and coordinate Local Emergency Planning Committees

Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs)

  • LEPCs develop local emergency response plans and review them at least annually.
  • Facilities notify SERCs and LEPCs if they have extremely hazardous substances present above the "threshold planning quantities" and participate in emergency planning.

Emergency Release Notification (40 CFR 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.
  • SERCs and LEPCs make accidental release information available to the public upon request.

Hazardous Chemical Reporting (40 CFR Sections 311-312)

  • Facilities submit material safety data sheets (MSDS's) or lists of hazardous chemicals on-site (above "threshold quantities") to SERCs, LEPCs, and local fire departments.
  • Facilities submit emergency and hazardous chemical inventory forms (amounts and locations of chemicals) to SERCs, LEPCs, and local fire departments.
  • SERCs and LEPCs make hazardous chemical information available to the public upon request.

Toxic Chemical Release Reporting (40 CFR Section 313)

  • Covered facilities submit annual reports on yearly toxic chemical releases to states and EPA.
  • EPA establishes a national toxic chemical release inventory, based on facility reports.
  • States and EPA make release information available to the public and communities. EPA makes information accessible on a national computerized TRI database and by other means.

Trade Secrets (40 CFR Section 322)

  • Facilities may claim chemical identity information trade secrets, but must substantiate the claim.
  • Trade secret information may be disclosed to health professionals for diagnostic, treatment, and prevention purposes upon request.
  • Citizens may challenge trade secret claims by petitioning EPA.

Penalties and Citizen Suits (40 CFR 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 provisions of EPCRA.
  • Anyone who knowingly and willfully fails to provide emergency release notification is subject to criminal penalties of up to $50,000 or five years in prison.
  • The SERC, LEPC, EPA, or the state or local government may initiate actions against 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.
  • Citizens may sue a facility, the EPA, the SERC or the governor of their state for failure to provide information that must be made public under the Act.
  • The public can petition EPA to add or delete chemicals from the list of toxic chemicals that must be reported under the toxic chemical release inventory.

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On April 22, 1997, EPA Administrator Carol Browner signed a rule that increased the number of industries required to report under the community right-to-know program. The new rule requires about 6,100 new facilities in seven industrial sectors to report their annual toxic releases beginning with the 1998 reporting year. With the addition of these new industrial sectors, a total of more than 31,000 facilities will publicly report their toxic releases.

The seven new industrial sectors added under the right-to-know program are: metal mining, coal mining, electric utilities (those that use coal and oil as fuel), commercial hazardous waste treatment, petroleum bulk terminals, chemical distributors and solvent recovery services. These categories will join the 20 others already reporting on toxic releases. Companies within these industrial sectors must begin reporting in 1998; these figures are due to EPA by July 1, 1999.

The EPA's Chemical Right-to-Know Initiative includes expansion of the TRI chemical list to include high-priority, persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic (PBT's) chemicals. EPA will propose a rule to lower the threshold for reporting of PBT's already on TRI, and to add other PBT's (also at lowered thresholds) to reporting requirements. The first PBT rule will be proposed by the end of the 1998 and finalized in 1999.

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  • CEPPO - EPA Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office
  • EPCRA - Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act
  • LEPC - Local Emergency Planning Committee
  • MSDS - Material Safety Data Sheet
  • OPPT - EPA Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics
  • PBT - Persistent, Bioaccumulative, Toxic
  • SARA - Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986
  • SERC - State Emergency Response Commission
  • TERC - Tribal Emergency Response Commission
  • TRI - Toxic Release Inventory