Dealing with Chemicals: It's Everybody's Job

Journal of Environmental Health, July-August 1998 | Go to article overview
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Dealing with Chemicals: It's Everybody's Job

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act creates a new relationship among government at all levels, business and community leaders, environmental and other public-interest organizations, and individual citizens. For the first time, the law makes citizens full partners in preparing for emergencies and managing chemical risks. Each of these groups and individuals has an important role in making the program work:

Local communities and states have the basic responsibility for understanding risks posed by chemicals at the local level, for managing those risks, for reducing those risks, and for dealing with emergencies. By developing emergency planning and chemical risk management at the levels of government closest to the community, the law helps to ensure the broadest possible public representation in the decision-making process.

Citizens, health professionals, public-interest and labor organizations, the media, and others are working with government and industry to use the information for planning and response at the community level. The new law gives everyone involved access to more of the facts they need to determine what chemicals mean to the public health and safety.

Industry is responsible for operating as safely as possible using the most appropriate techniques and technologies; for gathering information on the chemicals it uses, stores, and releases into the environment and providing it to government agencies and local communities; and for helping set up procedures to handle chemical emergencies. Beyond meeting the letter of the law, some industry groups and individual companies are reaching out to their communities by explaining the health hazards involved in using chemicals, by opening communication channels with community groups, and by considering changes in their practices to reduce any potential risks to human health or the environment.

The federal government is responsible for providing national leadership and assistance to states and communities so they will have the tools and expertise they need to receive, assimilate, and analyze all Title III data, and to take appropriate measures in accidental risk and emissions reduction at the local level. EPA is also working to ensure that industry complies with the law's requirements; the public has access to information on annual toxic chemical releases; and the information is used in various EPA programs to protect the nation's air, water, and soil from pollution. EPA is also working with industry to encourage voluntary reductions in the use and release of hazardous chemicals wherever possible.

How the Law Works

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act contains four major provisions:

Planning for chemical emergencies.

Emergency notification of chemical accidents and releases.

Reporting of hazardous chemical inventories.

Toxic chemical release reporting.

The law also deals with trade secrets, disclosure of information to health professionals, public access to information gathered under the law, and other topics. The four major elements are described in this section. (The main provisions of the law are also outlined in Highlights of the Law, and It's in the Federal Register.)

Emergency Planning

The emergency planning section of the law is designed to help your community prepare for and respond to emergencies involving hazardous substances. Every community in the United States must be part of a comprehensive plan.

The governor of your state must appoint a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). The governor can choose to name one or more existing state agencies, such as the environmental, emergency, health, transportation, commerce, and other relevant agencies, as the SERC. Members of trade associations, public- interest organizations, and others with experience in emergency planning may also be included on the SERC.

Each SERC in turn has divided its state into local emergency planning districts, and must appoint a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) for each district.

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Dealing with Chemicals: It's Everybody's Job


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