Emergency Planning & Community Right to Know Act

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Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (commonly known as SARA Title III) was passed in 1986. This far reaching legislation impacted both the private and public sectors by requiring the reporting of certain chemicals and the preparation of detailed emergency response plans to give first responders information on the amount and location of those chemicals. It created a working partnership between federal, state and local governments; the public; and industry to identify potential chemical hazards in the community and to do emergency planning for chemical accidents.

Hazardous materials are common in communities both in the workplace and in the home. They are used by many industries, small businesses, government agencies and private citizens. If any material, either alone or in combination with other substances, has the potential to threaten human health or the environment, it is considered to be a hazardous material. Hazardous materials are most commonly stored at businesses or industrial sites in above-ground or below-ground containers of various types. They are transported by truck, rail, air, water and pipeline. Your community plans and prepares for accidental hazardous materials releases.

Ten years after this law was enacted, there are many facilities that still have not complied with the reporting requirements of SARA Title III. Ignorance of the law will not prevent compliance enforcement and failure to comply can result in penalties of up to $25,000/day. In Wisconsin, several facilities have already paid forfeitures for non-compliance. There are many reasons for non-compliance and, hopefully, I can dispel some of the misconceptions about reporting.

The most common excuse is, "I didn't know I had to comply." Although there are some exemptions, mainly for retailers, any facility that uses, stores or produces hazardous chemicals may have to report. A facility can be a factory, school, gas station, community center or hospital. Farm Co-ops are exempt from reporting fertilizers and retailers are exempt from reporting goods packaged for resale.

A common misconception is that a facility does not use ‘hazardous chemicals'. The law is somewhat vague in its definition of hazardous chemicals, but a good rule of thumb is that if the product comes with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), then it should be reported. Common hazardous chemicals include propane, kerosene, fuel oil, motor oil and gasoline. If you have 10,000 lbs. or more of these products at your facility, you will have to file a report.

Another misconception is that the reporting requirements are too difficult. In fact, SARA reporting is relatively easy if a facility monitors the hazardous chemicals used on site throughout the year. Under the law, there are two categories of regulated chemicals: hazardous substances and extremely hazardous substances (EHS). EHS chemicals are found on an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list of approximately 366 substances. Common EHS chemicals include chlorine, sulfuric acid, anhydrous ammonia and nitric acid. Unlike the more common hazardous substances, the minimum reporting quantities will vary depending on the chemical.

In Wisconsin, facilities that use, store or produce chemicals at or above the threshold quantities are required to submit a Tier II Reporting Form to the State Emergency Response Board (SERB), Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) and the local fire department. This form is usually a one or two page document, depending on the number of chemicals being reported. Basic information asked for includes the facility name and address, emergency contact person and phone number, chemical names and quantities. The SERB sends the forms out by mid-January and they are due back by March 1st. Failure to receive a form does not absolve a facility from their reporting obligations.

Your Right-To-Know

The Community Right-to-Know Act was designed to give the public access to their community’s chemical storage information. The more you know about hazardous materials in your community, the better prepared you and your community will be. The law requires facilities to provide information on any hazardous materials present, in terms of both potential risks and their effects on public health, safety and the environment.

Citizens who wish to review the information available about the hazardous materials in their communities should contact the Dodge County’s Local Emergency Planning Committee coordinator for information. The LEPC has copies of facility reports, material safety data sheets, and response plans for extremely hazardous substances, if the facility is required to submit information on them. Dodge County LEPC also has a county-wide emergency response plan on file. This plan identifies the hazards in your county and contains procedures for emergency response to hazmat releases. You may want to ask how the procedure may affect you, your family or place of business. This will help you be more informed about hazardous materials in your community and help you and your neighbors be better prepared for an accidental release.

For further information or help, please contact:

Dodge County Office of Emergency Management
124 West Street
Juneau, WI 53039
(920) 386-3993
or (920) 386-3999


EPCRA Program
Wisconsin Emergency Management
PO Box 7865
Madison, WI 53707-7865
(608) 242-3221 or (608) 242-3232