State Emergency Response Commission

All states are required to establish a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) responsible for implementing the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA) within the state. The SERC's duties include:

  • Establishing procedures for receiving and processing public requests for information
  • Reviewing local emergency response plans
  • Designating local emergency planning districts
  • Appointing a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) for each district
  • Supervising the activities of the LEPCs

Rhode Island's SERC membership currently consists of representatives from the State's Emergency Management Agency, the Division of the State Fire Marshal with the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Labor and Training, the Department of Environmental Management, the Department of Health, the Division of Planning within the Department of Administration, and the League of Cities and Towns. The Director of the Emergency Management Agency serves as Chair.

Determining if a facility is subject to the EPCRA emergency planning requirements is straightforward. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published a list of "extremely hazardous substances (EHS)." For each EHS, the list includes the name, the Chemical Abstract Service number of the substance, and a number called a threshold planning quantity (TPQ). The TPQ, expressed in pounds, is the critical number. If a facility has within its boundaries an amount of an extremely hazardous substance equal to or in excess of its threshold planning quantity, the facility is subject to the EPCRA emergency planning requirements and must notify both the SERC and the LEPC of this fact. The facility must also appoint an emergency response coordinator who will work with the LEPC on developing and implementing the local emergency plan at the facility.

The reportable quantity is the critical number that determines if a release must be reported. This is a number expressed in pounds that is assigned to each chemical. If the amount of a chemical released to the environment exceeds the reportable quantity, the facility must immediately report the release to the appropriate LEPC and SERC and provide a written follow-up as soon as practicable. Immediate notification must include the following:

  • The name of the chemical
  • The location of the release
  • Whether the chemical is on the "extremely hazardous" list
  • How much of the substance has been released
  • The time and duration of the incident
  • Whether the chemical was released into the air, water, or soil, or some combination of the three
  • Known or anticipated health risks and necessary medical attention
  • Proper precautions, such as evacuation
  • A contact person at the facility

In addition to immediate notification, facilities are required to provide a follow-up report, in writing, "update(ing) the original notification, provid(ing) additional information on response actions taken, known or anticipated health risks, and, if appropriate, advice regarding any medical care needed by exposure victims.” Failure to notify the proper authorities may result in civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day for each day of non-compliance and criminal penalties of up to $25,000 in fines and prison sentences of up to two years.

Of course there are exceptions. A release which results in exposure to persons solely within the facility boundary or is a federally permitted release does not have to be reported. Also, continuous pesticide and radionuclide releases meeting specified conditions are exempt

The purpose of these requirements is to increase community awareness of chemical hazards and to facilitate emergency planning. This section applies to any facility that is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under its Hazard Communication Standard to prepare or have available a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for a hazardous chemical or that has on-site, for any one day in a calendar year, an amount of a hazardous chemical equal to or greater than the following threshold limits established by the EPA:

  • 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) for hazardous chemicals; or
  • Lesser of 500 pounds (230 kg) or the threshold planning quantity for extremely hazardous substances.

If a facility is subject to reporting under these sections, it must submit information to the SERC, the LEPC and the local fire department with jurisdiction over the facility under two categories: SDS reporting and inventory reporting.

SDS Reporting

SDS reporting requirements specifically provide information to the local community about mixtures and chemicals present at a facility and their associated hazards. For all substances whose on-site quantities exceed the above threshold limits, the facility must submit the following:

  • A copy of the SDS for each above-threshold chemical on-site or a list of the chemicals grouped into categories
  • Within three months of any change, an SDS or list for additional chemicals which meet the reporting criteria.

Inventory Reporting

Inventory reporting is designed to provide information on the amounts, location and storage conditions of hazardous chemicals and mixtures containing hazardous chemicals present at facilities. Submission of the Tier II form is required under Section 312 of the EPCRA. The purpose of this form is to provide State and local officials and the public with information on the general hazard types and locations of hazardous chemicals present at your facility during the previous calendar year.