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


On December 4, 1984, a cloud of Methyl Isocyanate gas escaped from a Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India. More than 3,000 people lost their lives and tens of thousands more were injured. Many of the injuries resulted in permanent disabilities.

A chemical release in West Virginia shortly after the Bhopal incident, though not nearly as serious, posed the question of whether it could happen in the United States. Even before 1984 there were groups trained to deal with chemical emergencies at federal, state, and local levels, but there was not a mandatory, comprehensive national program to deal with chemical emergencies. The Bhopal tragedy started a chain of events in the United States that made planning for and responding to chemical accidents mandatory for all levels of government.

Soon after the Bhopal incident many governmental and private organizations began hazardous materials awareness programs. States passed laws giving workers and citizens the right to access information about hazardous substances in their communities. In 1986 Congress passed the Superfund Amendments Reauthorization Act (SARA). SARA contains three subtitles, but most of the regulations involving general Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) activities fall under SARA Title III. Title III of SARA is also known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). The interchangeable use of EPCRA and SARA, Title III often leads to confusion, but they are the same.

Many of the voluntary programs and state laws became federal law with the passage of EPCRA. The law requires that detailed information about the nature of hazardous substances in or near communities be made available to the public. It provides stiff penalties for companies that do not comply and also allow citizens the right to file lawsuits against companies and government agencies to force them to comply. EPCRA also requires each state to establish a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) to deal with hazardous materials issues at state levels. The SERCs in turn are required to establish LEPCs.

EPCRA contains four major provisions dealing with hazardous chemicals. They are:

  • Planning for chemical emergencies;
  • Providing emergency notification of chemical accidents;
  • Reporting hazardous chemical inventories; and
  • Reporting routine toxic chemical releases.


Why are SARA Title III regulations important?

In 1986, Congress passed the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) as a response to the chemical accident in Bhopal, India. This was the incident in which a toxic gas, methyl isocyanate, escaped from an industrial plant and killed or injured more than 1,000 people. Title III of SARA, also known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, establishes the public's right to know what chemicals are stored in their communities. It also requires state and local governments to establish local committees to identify hazardous materials and to plan for responding to releases of the materials.

What are the regulations that apply?

The federal regulations governing SARA Title III are found in 42 U.S.C Chapter 116 and 40 CFR Chapter I Subpart J part 355. Related state statutes are found in South Dakota Codified Law 1-50.

Who has to report?

Any business which stores, uses, or releases hazardous materials may be required to comply with one or more provision of SARA Title III. This federal act focuses on local emergency planning and on the public's right of access to information about the chemicals stored or used in the community. Contact Kelsey Newling at (800) 433-2288 or E-mail for assistance or if you have any questions.

The emergency planning notification requirements are related to the amount of a specific material stored by a number known as a Threshold Planning Quantity (TPQ). This threshold amount applies to any chemical on the Extremely Hazardous Substances List. It is based on acute toxicity and ranges from 10 to several thousand pounds. Business locations that store more than the threshold amount of an Extremely Hazardous Substance are required to inform the state, a local planning committee and the fire department which has jurisdiction at the facility. This notification must include a designated facility coordinator.


Other hazardous materials such as petroleum products, solvents, and most compressed gases, are subject to a second type of threshold. These materials must be reported if the amount located on site exceeds 10,000 pounds at any one time during the calendar year. The annual reports that include these hazardous materials along with any extremely hazardous substances stored at a business location is called the Tier II Emergency & Hazardous Chemical Inventory.


Certain facilities must also comply with the Toxic Release Inventory by submitting an annual report to EPA and to the state. These reports can be submitted either on Form R or Form A depending on the amount of waste the facility produces. These facilities must have ten or more employees, and use more than threshold amounts of listed chemicals per year. Originally, this provision applied only to manufacturing and processing facilities with a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Code of 2000 to 3999, but EPA expanded it to cover additional industry groups beginning with the 1998 reporting year. The new industry groups include metal mining, coal mining, coal and oil fired electric utilities, chemical wholesale facilities, petroleum bulk stations and terminals, RCRA Subtitle C facilities, and waste solvent recyclers. Data reported by reporting facilities around the country is found in Envirofacts on the Environmental Protection Agency's web site.


SARA Title III also requires a business or individual to report releases of substances with a federally designated Reportable Quantity if the release exceeds that amount in any 24-hour period. See South Dakota's spill reporting procedures. These quantities range from one pound to several thousand pounds. EPA has compiled a list of these substances and the lists mentioned above into the "Lists of Lists (PDF Format).