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What is Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)?


The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act is a significant milestone in the detection and prevention of hazardous chemicals. The US Congress enacted this law in the wake of the Bhopal disaster in India. It seeks to involve the local community in its efforts.

community-right-to-know-act-epcraThe core aim of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act is to help local communities organize their activities and prepare for chemical emergencies. Because of the nature and consequences of chemical disasters that can have profound consequences for the local community; the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act focuses on the reporting aspect.

Involvement of the local communitiesOne of the major requirements of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act is that of industries, which have to report storage, use and release of harmful chemicals to the local bodies, as well as the state and even federal governmental agencies, so that they allow residents to take the necessary steps for the preparing for the emergencies these substances may cause.

Background to the enactment of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act 
community-right-to-know-act-epcraThe Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986, which was authorized by Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA); is rooted in the Bhopal gas disaster of 1984, which happened thousands of miles away, in distant India. The widespread loss the gas leakage caused to life alerted the US authorities about the dangers of not having laws to regulate the handling of dangerous chemicals and implementing the laws.

Making note of the severe deficiencies in the ways in which a substance as dangerous as methylisocyanate at the Union Carbide plant, which caused the huge loss to life was stored and used; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was determined to prevent such a disaster in the US. The US Congress incorporated several key provisions in the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act which make it mandatory for industries to report on the usage and storage of chemicals to the local communities.

The SERC as the ombudsman
community-right-to-know-act-epcraAs a step towards implementation of the EPCRA, each state is required to appoint a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). The EPCRA requires these SERCs to divide their states into Emergency Planning Districts. Each SERC has to also name a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) for each of the districts.

The federal, state and local governments, as well as the industry and tribes are now under the ambit of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. One of its main provisions, the “Community Right to Know” provision states the conditions and means by which to report chemicals and other hazardous substances. The aim of this provision is to heighten the public awareness of and access to information about these substances, their use and their release, in the local community, so that a disaster can be averted. In case a disaster still happens, its fallouts can be contained.

Key provisions of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know ActThe Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act has a few important provisions. These are the key provisions:

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