Why comply with Emergency Planning & Community Right To Know Act (EPCRA)?
Compliance with EPCRA is important for many different reasons, but most importantly, for emergency responders to be able to plan, prepare, and mitigate a chemical release or a fire involving hazardous chemicals at a facility. Compliance is in the best interests of everyone. After all, if there is a chemical release, the fire department will most likely be called for assistance. When the firefighters and emergency responders know what chemicals are present at a facility, and the locations and amounts of these hazardous chemicals, the firefighters will be able to deal with the chemical emergency in a more efficient and effective manner. This saves time, money, and lives. And a more rapid response and cleanup can reduce or prevent liability. The local fire department may likely require information about a facility and its chemicals that is more detailed than the information required by EPCRA, such as a Hazardous Materials Management Plan (HMMP).
Remember, emergencies don't always occur during business hours. At 3:00 am, emergency responders have to know what they are dealing with in order to protect themselves, property, and lives. Firefighters can be legitimately concerned about entering a building with an unknown kind or quantity of chemicals. When emergency responders do not know what hazardous chemicals are at a facility and the locations of the chemicals, they must respond very slowly and more cautiously to prevent their own injury or loss of life. They may also have to take precautionary measures such as evacuation or shelter-in-place when these measures may not be necessary. Alternatively, it is also in a facility's best interest to limit its liability due to potential public and employee exposure to chemicals released during a chemical spill or fire involving hazardous chemicals, so the data about the hazardous chemical inventory and appropriate facility emergency plan should be in place so that firefighters will know when to initiate shelter-in-place and/or evacuation measures. The facility information required to comply with EPCRA reporting makes sense, and is not just "more paperwork." Often, complying with EPCRA reporting will trigger activities at a facility to think about, and prepare, for an incident or emergency dealing with hazardous chemicals. It always makes sense to plan for facility accidents and mistakes, to look at the "downside" of chemical usage.
Also, the avoidable delays and unneeded extra actions caused when firefighters and emergency responders are not aware of facility EPCRA information costs taxpayers unnecessarily, and puts adjacent businesses and communities at an added risk. Lack of vital information just slows or impedes chemical and other disaster mitigation measures. The more vital information in the hands of firefighters, the more efficient a response will be. The longer and larger the disaster, the greater the potential losses for the company, including off-site consequences. [Off-site consequences are damages due to chemical contaminants having effects beyond the boundaries of the facility that has had the chemical spill or release.]
So it is also in the best interest of the other business neighbors and adjacent residential areas that this facility chemical information be in the hands of firefighters and regulators BEFORE there is a chemical emergency. A longer emergency response just increases the risk of private property damage or human health impacts.
EPCRA has its limitations, however, and facilities are advised to use the BOLDER software to comply with EPCRA and all other emergency planning requirements. Facilities should also make sure that the fire department and emergency response infrastructure is using the BOLDER software.
It is in the best interest of everyone involved that facilities that use and store chemicals comply with the law and report to the local firefighters and emergency planners. Remember that there is no penalty for reporting chemicals at or near the reportable quantity amounts! If there is uncertainty about whether the facility has chemicals at the reporting threshold quantities, it is better to be on the safe side and report anyway. The last thing a business owner needs is emergency responders hesitating over concerns about a large tank of unknown chemicals while the company is going up in smoke or while the physical plant is being enveloped in a chemical cloud that could move offsite and cause damage beyond the facility fenceline.
Compliance can help save lives. Compliance can help mitigate an emergency situation, which also mitigates the facility's liability. When firefighters understand what they are getting into, unnecessary evacuations are avoided and necessary ones are undertaken. Compliance can void the threat of penalties (up to $ 27,500/day) for noncompliance. Compliance can demonstrate a "good neighbor" attitude.
When questioned in focus groups, community members said they usually feel more comfortable when they know that a facility is filing its EPCRA reports. In fact, if community members know the facility is reporting and in EPCRA compliance, they stated they usually will not take further action to even review the EPCRA compliance information. Community members usually just want to know that a facility is in compliance and that the emergnecy responders have what they need to protect the community in the event of an accident or chemical incident at the facility. It is just when there is no "comfort level" because the facility does not report under EPCRA when the community members believe the facility should be reporting that community members begin to get concerned.