The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1986. It was a response to various instances throughout the world of deaths caused by accidental chemical releases.
Known as EPCRA, the law covers two important
areas. First, it mandates that communities develop plans in case of a chemical leak or another such emergency. Second, it grants communities certain right-to-know provisions. The Act was a bold step towards the general prevention of crisis, as opposed to the previous attitude of dealing with problems individually as they arose.
The first part of the law deals with planning for an emergency. Each state was required to develop a State Emergency Response
Commission. This commission was then to establish emergency planning districts and appoint committees for each. These committees were then to prepare emergency plans and provide procedures and the identities of facilities, a local community emergency coordinator, and a coordinator from each facility subject to the EPCRA. Such facilities fall under a certain category based on the quantity and hazards of their chemical materials. In addition to this, either the governor
or the State Emergency Response Committee can add facilities to this list. All hazardous material emissions must be reported to the community coordinator by each facility, which must also provide follow-up information on the release.
The second part of the law concerns a community's right-to-know. To achieve this objective, local businesses are required to fill out both the Hazardous Chemical Inventory and the Toxic
Chemicals Release Inventories. For the first, they must complete a Safety Data Sheet for each chemical of a certain amount within their possession. This sheet then goes to local agencies, including the Local Emergency Planning Committee. For each of these chemicals, an annual Chemical Inventory Report must also be filled out. Toxic Release Inventories must also be completed annually. These must list all chemical releases made within the past year. All such
information is then made available to public officials, as well as to the general public. Health officials must, upon request, be given other chemical identities for use in treatment of exposed people.
Over time, the EPCRA has become more widely enforced. At this point, strong penalties exist for non-compliance with its provisions. The effects of EPCRA are generally regarded as highly positive. The Act has inspired companies to completely change positions
on the issue of chemical management. Many have created waste reduction programs and some have worked to make releases even less possible; at the same time, the spread of chemical information throughout communities has led many to provide seminars for employees on how to effectively communicate EPCRA information to the general public.