BACKGROUND OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS LEGISLATION

 

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.



If you need assistance, please contact Trish Kindt at (800) 433-2288 or E-mail.