Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Solid Waste and Emergency Response

Emergency Response and Cleanup

The goal of EPA's emergency response and removal program is to provide quick response to immediate threats to public health and the environment from releases of hazardous substances whenever and wherever they occur. EPA leads the federal effort to reduce risks posed by contaminated land by responding to releases and potential releases of harmful substances and undertaking cleanups and other activities to return land to beneficial use. We collaborate with private organizations, communities, businesses, and government agencies at every level to accomplish these ends.

EPA responds to emergencies (e.g., train derailments, fires involving chemicals) that may require only a few days of involvement, and also conducts removal actions at contaminated sites that may last several months or longer.  EPA also responds to major natural disasters and homeland security events as part of the government wide response (e.g., BP Gulf Oil Spill, Hurricane Katrina).

Emergency Response Activities:

Why Community Engagement is Important to Emergency Response and Cleanup
EPA needs citizen participation in the work of local emergency planning committees (LEPCs) so that we can all understand what hazards are present in a community; identify appropriate steps to prevent accidents (e.g., by reducing chemical inventories at fixed facilities, restricting the transportation of hazmat in the community, etc.); and prepare realistic response plans in case there is an accidental release. Citizens are key players in developing evacuation and shelter-in-place plans. When an accident happens, the emergency response community (including fire and police departments, EMS and emergency management agencies, other first responders and EPA) will be busy containing the release or spill; the responders will provide information to the community to help them understand what is happening, what hazards are involved, and what they need to do to protect themselves and their families.

Citizens are also important in non-emergency situations in which EPA is called in to remove dangerous materials (e.g., mercury in schools, chemicals in buried drums and barrels, etc.)., Community members may provide important information about past or current facility operations, or the location of contamination or other environmental conditions related to the problem – and it is helpful for citizens to actively participate in interview sessions and public meetings.

In some emergency response situations, as time and circumstances allow, EPA and other state, local and federal agencies may more actively engage communities and stakeholders about the emergency decisions being made.  In all cases, EPA, other agencies and responders will work to provide affected communities and residents with understandable and easily accessible information about the emergency and response efforts.

We want your feedback about how we involve communities in the Emergency Response and Cleanup activities. Please share your experiences with these processes and your ideas for improvement.

Initiate, Conduct and Complete Removal Action

The goal of EPA's emergency response and removal program is to provide quick response to immediate threats to public health and the environment from releases of hazardous substances whenever and wherever they occur. We collaborate with private organizations, communities, businesses, and government agencies at every level.

EPA responds to emergencies (e.g., train derailments, fires involving chemicals) that may require only a few days of involvement, and also conducts removal actions lasting several months. When the responsible party does the cleanup work, EPA monitors and oversees the activities.

EPA typically undertakes the following steps when conducting an emergency response:
1. EPA receives and evaluates release notifications from the National Response Center, states, local governments and the public.
2. EPA then conducts a removal site evaluation to determine whether EPA involvement is necessary.
3. EPA then works with the appropriate parties to determine who will conduct a response (e.g., responsible parties, other federal agencies, states, or local governments).
4. If EPA is to lead the response, EPA documents this decision in an Action Memorandum.
5. EPA then conducts the appropriate response and removal activity.

EPA also participates in response to major natural disasters and homeland security events as part of the government wide response.

How we involve communities:
Community involvement usually occurs after an emergency response or removal action has started. In emergency responses, EPA notifies the community in coordination with local responders. For removal actions expected to extend beyond 120 days, EPA will, within 120 days of the start of the removal, conduct community interviews, prepare a community relations plan, and establish an information repository. Within 60 days of the initiation of an on-going removal activity, EPA must publish in a local newspaper a notice of availability of the administrative record file. As circumstances warrant, EPA may also conduct public meetings, host availability sessions develop additional public information materials, develop a community relations mailing list, prepare meeting summaries, and establish an on-scene information office. Citizens with concerns on a specific site can contact the appropriate regional office.

Links to More Information: None currently available.

Top of page

 

Jump to main content.