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Emergency Planning and Response

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Public awareness of the potential danger from accidental releases of hazardous substances has increased over the years as serious chemical accidents have occurred around the world.  In response to this public concern and the hazards that exist, EPA has programs designed to (1) prevent and prepare for chemical emergencies, (2) respond to environmental crises, and (3) inform the public about chemical hazards in their community.  Accident prevention, preparedness, and response are not discrete processes, but form a safety continuum.

Related topics
Natural Events and Disasters

More information from EPA
Office of Emergency Management's Web Site
National Homeland Security Research Center
The National Homeland Security Research Center (NHSRC) develops and delivers reliable, responsive expertise and products based on scientific research and evaluations of technology. Our expertise and products are widely used to prevent, prepare for, and recover from public health and environmental emergencies arising from terrorist threats and incidents.

Extremely Hazardous Substances and Hazardous Substances Under EPCRA

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act of 1986 establishes requirements for federal, state and local governments and industry regarding emergency planning and "Community Right-To-Know" reporting on hazardous and toxic chemicals. This law builds upon EPA's Chemical Emergency Preparedness Program (CEPP) and numerous state and local programs aimed at helping communities to better meet their responsibilities in regard to potential chemical emergencies. The Community Right-To-Know provisions will help increase the public's knowledge and access to information on the presence of hazardous chemicals in their communities and releases of these chemicals into the environment. States and communities, working with facilities, will be better able to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (also known as SARA Title III or EPCRA) has four major sections: emergency planning (Section 301-303), emergency release notification (Section 304), community right-to-know reporting requirements (Sections 311-312), and toxic chemical release inventory (Section 313). Information from these four reporting requirements will help states and communities develop a broad perspective of chemical hazards for the entire community as well as for individual facilities.

Emergency Planning
The emergency planning sections are designed to develop state and local governments' emergency response and preparedness capabilities through better coordination and planning, especially within the local community.

Any facility that has present any of the listed extremely hazardous substances in a quantity equal to or greater than its threshold planning quantity is subject to the emergency planning requirements. In addition, the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) or the Governor can designate additional facilities, after public comment, to be subject to these requirements. Covered facilities, including agricultural establishments and agribusinesses, must notify the SERC and Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) that they are subject to these requirements within 60 days after they begin to have present any of the extremely hazardous substances in an amount equal to or in excess of threshold planning quantities.

Emergency Releases
Facilities, including agricultural establishments and agribusinesses, must immediately notify the LEPCs and the SERCs likely to be affected if there is a release into the environment of a hazardous substance that exceeds the reportable quantity for that substance. Substances subject to this requirement are those on the list of 360 extremely hazardous substances as published in Federal Register (40 CFR 355), as well as the more than 700 hazardous substances subject to the emergency notification requirements under CERCLA Section 103(a)(40 CFR 302.4). Some chemicals are common to both lists. The CERCLA hazardous substances also require notification of releases to the National Response Center (NRC), which alerts federal responders. 

Any person in charge of a "facility" (e.g., an agricultural establishment or agribusiness) must notify EPA's National Response Center of any non-permitted releases of any CERCLA hazardous substances above threshold amounts. Releases could be to any environmental media including atmosphere, soil, surface water, or groundwater. This requirement does not apply to the normal application of a pesticide product registered under FIFRA or to the proper handling and storage of such a product by an agricultural producer.

Initial notification can be made by telephone, radio, or in person. Emergency notification requirements involving transportation incidents can be met by dialing 911, or in the absence of a 911 emergency number, calling the operator.

This emergency notification needs to include:

EPCRA Section 304 also requires a written follow-up emergency notice as soon as practicable after the release. The follow-up notice or notices must:

If LEPCs are not yet formed, releases should be reported to appropriate local response officials.

Reporting Requirements
There are two Community Right-To-Know reporting requirements within the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act. Section 311 applies to facilities that must prepare, or have available, material safety data sheets (MSDS) under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. These facilities must submit either copies of their MSDSs or a list of MSDS chemicals to:
-- the LEPC,
-- the SERC, and
-- the local fire department with jurisdiction over the facility.
Hazardous chemicals used in routine agricultural operations or a fertilizer held for resale by a retailer are excluded.

If the facility owner or operator chooses to submit a list of MSDS chemicals, the list must include the chemical or common name of each substance and must identify the applicable hazard categories. These hazard categories are:
-- immediate (acute) health hazard
-- delayed (chronic) health hazard
-- fire hazard
-- sudden release of pressure hazard
-- reactive hazard.

If a list is submitted, the facility must submit a copy of the MSDSs for any chemical on the list upon the request of the LEPC or SERC. Also EPA has established threshold quantities for hazardous chemicals below which no facility must report. The current thresholds for Section 311 are:
-- for extremely hazardous substances: 500 pounds or the threshold planning quantity, whichever is lower.
-- for all other hazardous chemicals: 10,000 pounds.

The initial submission of the MSDSs or a list of MSDS chemicals was due on October 17, 1987, or 3 months after the facility is required to prepare or have available an MSDS under OSHA regulations. Currently, OSHA regulations require all employers to have or prepare MSDSs for their chemicals. Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know statute, facilities newly covered by the OSHA regulations must submit MSDSs or a list of MSDS chemicals within 3 months after they become covered.

An MSDS or a revised list must be provided when new hazardous chemicals become present at a facility in quantities at or above the established threshold levels after the deadline. A revised MSDS must be provided to update the original MSDS if significant new information is discovered about the hazardous chemical.

Related publications from the Ag Center
Emergency Planning and Response

Related laws and policies
Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act

Related environmental requirements
Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act Exit EPA
40 CFR Part 355
40 CFR Parts 350-372

More information from EPA 
Fact Sheet: Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know
EPCRA Requirements
Electronic Self-Disclosure under the EPA Audit Policy

Telephone assistance from EPA 
EPCRA Hotline: 800-535-0202

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CERCLA or Superfund Hazardous Substances

CERCLA hazardous substances are defined in terms of those substances either specifically designated as hazardous under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), otherwise known as the Superfund law, or those substances identified under other laws. In all, the Superfund law includes references to four other laws to designate more than 800 substances as hazardous, and to identify many more as potentially hazardous due to their characteristics and the circumstances of their release.

Superfund or CERCLA defines a hazardous substance as:

In all, more than 800 substances have been specifically identified as CERCLA hazardous substances under these laws.

The Superfund (CERCLA) law gives EPA's Superfund Emergency Response program the authority to respond to emergencies involving these substances and to pollutants or contaminants that pose "imminent and substantial danger to public health and welfare or the environment." The term "pollutant or contaminant" includes, but is not limited to, any element, substance, compound or mixture, including disease-causing agents, which after release in the environment and upon exposure, ingestion, inhalation, or assimilation into any organism, will likely cause death, disease, behavioral abnormalities, cancer, genetic mutations, physiological malfunctions (including reproductive), or physical deformations in such organisms or their offspring.

The terms "hazardous substance" and "pollutant or contaminant" do not include petroleum or natural gas. EPA conducts emergency responses to incidents involving petroleum and non-petroleum oils through its Oil Spill Program, which functions under the Clean Water Act authorities. EPA often uses  the term "hazardous substance" to also include pollutants and contaminants.

In addition to the hazardous substances identified under the Superfund law, the Title III amendments to Superfund, also known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA), identify several hundred hazardous substances for their extremely toxic properties. EPA designated them as "extremely hazardous substances" to help focus initial chemical emergency response planning efforts.

Related publications from the Ag Center
Emergency Planning and Response

Related laws and policies
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act 

Related environmental requirements 
Overview of CERCLA (Superfund) Law 
40 CFR Part 300
40 CFR Part 302

More information from EPA
National Contingency Plan
Superfund Emergency Response Program

Telephone assistance from EPA 
CERCLA Hotline: 800-535-0202

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Continuous Release Reporting

Under the Superfund law, EPA is authorized to provide reduced reporting for facilities or vessels that release hazardous substances in a manner that meets the continuous release definition. Continuous reporting relief applies to the notification requirements under both Superfund and Emergency Preparedness and Community Right-to-Know laws. The purpose of the continuous release mechanism is to reduce unnecessary release notifications for releases of hazardous substances that are continuous and stable in quantity and rate. Neither the statute nor the continuous release reporting regulation, however, eliminates the requirement to report altogether.

The continuous release reporting process under CERCLA and EPCRA is a three step process. Please visit Emergency Response Program - Continuous Release Reporting Process page for more information.

Continuous Release Definition
EPA defines continuous release as a release of a hazardous substance that is "continuous" and "stable in quantity and rate." EPA interprets "continuous" to mean a release that occurs without interruption or abatement and that is routine, anticipated, and intermittent during normal operation or treatment process. EPA interprets the phrase "stable in quantity and rate" to mean predictable and regular in amount and rate of emission. A continuous release may be a release that occurs 24 hours a day, such as a radon release from a stock pile, or a release that occurs during a certain process, such as benzene released during the production of polymers, or a release of a hazardous substance from a tank vent each time the tank is filled.

Some releases resulting from malfunctions also may qualify for reduced reporting as continuous releases if they are incidental to normal plant operations or treatment processes, are stable in quantity and rate, and either:

  1. occur without interruption or abatement or
  2. are routine, anticipated, and intermittent.

Releases from malfunctions that may qualify for reduced reporting include fugitive emissions from valves that occur at different rates over the course of a production cycle.

More information from EPA
EPA Emergency Response Program - Reduced Reporting for Continuous Releases
EPA Emergency Response Program - Continuous Release Reporting Process
Reporting Requirements for Continuous Releases of Hazardous Substances, A Guide for Facilities on Compliance
EPA Region 7 - Spill Reporting

Contacts available
Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Contacts
Emergency Planning Contacts

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National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan

The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, more commonly called the National Contingency Plan or NCP, is the federal government's blueprint for responding to both oil spills and hazardous substance releases. The National Contingency Plan is the result of U.S. efforts to develop a national response capability and promote overall coordination among the hierarchy of responders and contingency plans.

Congress has broadened the scope of the National Contingency Plan over the years. As required by the Clean Water Act of 1972, the NCP was revised the following year to include a framework for responding to hazardous substance spills as well as oil discharges. Following the passage of Superfund legislation in 1980, the NCP was broadened to cover releases at hazardous waste sites requiring emergency removal actions. Over the years, additional revisions have been made to the NCP to keep pace with the enactment of legislation. The latest revisions to the NCP were finalized in 1994 to reflect the oil spill provisions of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

As a major industrial nation, the United States produces, distributes, and consumes large quantities of oil. Petroleum-based oil is used as a major power source to fuel our factories and various modes of transportation, and in many everyday products, such as plastics, nylon, paints, tires, cosmetics, and detergents. On average, the U.S. uses over 250 billion gallons of oil and petroleum products each year. To meet this demand, each year the U.S. produces an average of 125 billion gallons of crude oil and imports an average of 114 billion gallons of crude oil and other petroleum products. At every point in the oil production, distribution, and consumption process, oil is invariably stored in storage tanks. With billions of gallons of oil being stored throughout the country, the potential for an oil spill is significant, and the effects of spilled oil can pose serious threats to the environment.

In addition to petroleum-based oil, the U.S. consumes millions of gallons of non-petroleum oils, such as silicone and mineral-based oils, and animal and vegetable oils. Like petroleum products, these non-petroleum oils are often stored in storage tanks that have the potential to spill, causing environmental damages that are just as serious as those caused by petroleum-based oils.

To address the potential environmental threat posed by petroleum and non-petroleum oils, EPA has established a program designed to prevent oil spills. The program has reduced the number of spills to less than 1 percent of the total volume handled each year. The program is also designed to prepare for and respond to any oil spill affecting the inland waters of the United States. EPA's oil program has a long history of responding to oil spills, including several major oil spills, and the lessons learned have helped to improve our country's prevention and response capabilities. The Oil Spill Program is administered through EPA headquarters and the 10 EPA regions.

Under the National Contingency Plan, EPA is the lead federal response agency for oil spills occurring in inland waters, and the U.S. Coast Guard is the lead response agency for spills in coastal waters and deepwater ports.

Hazardous Substances
As an industrialized nation, the United States produces, transports, stores, uses, and disposes of millions of tons of hazardous substances per day. Many of us live and work among a wide variety of hazardous substances, which can be found on trucks, trains, and ships that transport hazardous substances; in industrial production, storage, and use; and in active and abandoned hazardous waste sites. Hazardous substances also are found in many consumer products and services that we use every day, including paints, batteries, drycleaning processes, pesticides, and many others. Under normal conditions, these substances are controlled and pose no threat to human life and the environment. But when they enter the environment through an accidental release, they can contaminate the land we use, the water we drink, and the air we breathe, with potentially disastrous results.

National Response Center (NRC) Exit EPA
The NRC receives all reports of releases involving hazardous substances and oil that trigger the federal notification requirements under several laws. 

Reporting Triggers
The top priority of EPA's emergency response program is to eliminate any danger to the public and the environment posed by hazardous substance releases and oil spills. To help fulfill this mission, EPA requires that the person or organization responsible for a release or spill notify the federal government when the amount reaches a federally determined limit. EPA has established reporting "triggers" for both hazardous substance releases and oil spills to identify when the federal government should be notified. States also may have separate reporting requirements.

Oil Reporting Requirements
EPA has established requirements to report oil spills that occur in navigable waters or along adjoining shorelines. 

Hazardous Substance Reporting Triggers
For releases of hazardous substances, the federal government has established a reportable quantity, or "RQ," that triggers the reporting requirements under the Superfund law. If a hazardous substance is released to the environment in an amount that equals or exceeds its RQ, the release must be reported to federal authorities so that emergency response personnel can evaluate whether a response action is needed. 

Related environmental requirements
Discharge of Oil Regulation

More information from EPA
National Response Center
Oil Spill Program
Superfund Response Program (hazardous substances)

Telephone assistance from EPA 
National Response Center 800-424-8802
Oil and hazardous substance release 800-424-8802
Oil spill program information line 800-424-9346

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Oil Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasures Program

In 1973, EPA issued the Oil Pollution Prevention regulation to address the oil spill prevention provisions contained in the Clean Water Act of 1972. The regulation forms the basis of EPA's oil spill prevention, control, and countermeasures, or SPCC, program, which seeks to prevent oil spills from certain aboveground and underground storage tanks.

SPCC Compliance Date Amendment

On October 13, 2011, EPA amended the date by which farms must prepare or amend and implement their Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans, to May 10, 2013. Facilities must amend or prepare, and implement SPCC Plans by the compliance date in accordance with revisions to the SPCC rule promulgated since 2002. Farms must also amend or prepare their SPCC Plans, and implement those Plans by the same date.

SPCC Rule Compliance Dates

Final Action to Amend the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule
In December 2006, EPA amended the SPCC rule to streamline some of its requirements.  As part of the Oil Pollution Prevention regulation, the SPCC rule outlines requirements for prevention of, preparedness for, and response to oil discharges.  Regulated facilities, including some farms, must develop and implement SPCC Plans that establish procedures and equipment requirements to help prevent oil discharges from reaching waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines.

What is a “farm” for purposes of the SPCC rule?
In the SPCC rule, EPA defines a farm as “a facility on a tract of land devoted to the production of crops or raising of animals, including fish, which produced and sold, or normally would have produced and sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during a year.”

What farms are subject to the SPCC rule?
The SPCC rule applies to owners or operators of farms that:

The following are exempt from the SPCC rule:

What are the compliance dates for farms?

On June 19, 2009, EPA published in the Federal Register a SPCC compliance date extension for all facilities until November 10, 2010. Facilities must amend or prepare, and implement SPCC Plans by the compliance date in accordance with revisions to the SPCC rule promulgated since 2002. Farms must also amend or prepare their SPCC Plans, and implement those Plans by the same date.

On October 7, 2010, EPA maintained the November 10, 2010 compliance date for drilling, production or workover facilities that are offshore or that have an offshore component, and for onshore facilities required to have and submit Facility Response Plans (FRPs). However, EPA extended the compliance date an additional year for all other facilities to amend or develop a SPCC Plan until November 10, 2011.

On April 12, 2011, EPA amended the SPCC rule to exempt milk and milk product containers, associated piping and appurtenances.

On October 13, 2011, EPA amended the date by which farms must prepare or amend and implement their Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans, to May 10, 2013.

A farm starting operation…  Must...
On or before August 16, 2002*
  • Continue to maintain its existing SPCC Plan in accordance with the SPCC rule.
  • Amend and implement that Plan no later than May 10, 2013.
After August 16, 2002, through May 10, 2013
  • Prepare and implement an SPCC Plan no later than May 10, 2013.
After May 10, 2013
  • Prepare and implement an SPCC Plan before beginning operations.

* August 16, 2002 is the date that the amended SPCC rule became effective.

Information for Farms about the November 2009 Revisions to SPCC Requirements

Related publications from the Ag Center
Emergency Planning

Related laws and policies
Clean Water Act - SPCC Program

Related environmental requirements
Clean Water Act Section 311
40 CFR Part 112

More information from EPA
Oil Spill Program
SPCC Rule Compliance Dates
Federal Register notice 71 FR 8462
SPCC Rule Amendment: Animal Fats and Vegetable Oils Fact Sheet
Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule and Milk
SPCC Rule Web page
SPCC Information for Farmers Fact Sheet (PDF) (2 pp, 52K) Updated March, 2011.
Fact Sheet: SPCC Compliance Date Extension for Farms (PDF) (2 pp, 29K)
Tier I Qualified Facility SPCC Plan Template now available

Information from USDA
NRCS Announces $3 Million Pilot Initiative to Help Farmers and Ranchers Comply with On-Farm Oil Spill Regulation - Technical and financial assistance is available in eight states to help farmers develop oil spill contingency plans and provide secondary oil spill containment.
SPCC Guidance and Template for Dairy Producers (PDF) (57 pp, 1.6MB)

Information from the States

Top 5 SPCC Violations (PDF) (19 pp, 223K)
Compliance Assistance for Businesses
Compliance Assistance for Farmers

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2004 Year in Review: Emergency Management -- Prevention, Preparedness, and Response

EPA's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has issued its first annual report detailing emergency management activities in EPA headquarters and regional offices. Together with many partners in federal, state, and local governments and the private sector, the Agency is making significant progress in preventing accidents, preparing for those events that cannot yet be prevented, and responding to environmental emergencies, both accidental and those caused by terrorism.

More information from EPA
Office of Emergency Management
2004 Year in Review: Emergency Management -- Prevention, Preparedness, and Response (PDF) (22 pp, 438K)

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