Where to file EPCRA information - SERCs, TERCs, and LEPCs

The very first item in the EPCRA statutes is the establishment of State Emergency Response Commissions, or SERCs. The Governor of each state was required to appoint the SERC. The Governors were given an option to make one or more existing emergency response organizations that were state-sponsored or state-appointed the SERC. The Governors were required to try to appoint persons to the SERC who would have the technical expertise in the field of emergency response.

The SERCs appoint the LEPCs and supervise and coordinate the activities of the LEPCs in the SERC's state.

The SERCs were also charged with the duty of establishing procedures for receiving and processing requests for EPCRA information from the general public. These procedures had to include the designation of an official to serve as coordinator for information. In the event that a Governor did not appoint a SERC, the Governor had to serve as the SERC until one was created.

SERCs have the power to establish and determine the emergency planning districts in each state. In many states, each county is an emergency planning district. In some states, the emergency planning districts are broken into areas or regions that are not determined by county boundaries.

If the emergency planning areas involve more than one State, the SERCs of all the involved States may designate emergency planning districts and LEPCs by agreement. In such a scenario, the SERC must indicate which facilities subject to EPCRA reporting requirements are within this emergency planning district. A facility in this type of emergency planning district would not be expected to make the determination as to where to send its EPCRA reports.

SERCs may revise LEPC memberships, SERC memberships, and the emergency planning districts as it deems appropriate. It can make changes and adaptations. Interested persons may also petition the SERC to modify the membership of an LEPC.

SERCs may make decisions to designate additional facilities that must report under EPCRA, after proper public notice and opportunity for comment. If this happens, though, it is the responsibility of the SERC (or the Governor) to notify the facilities of the new requirements. An example of this would be to expand the emergency planning requirements of EHS facilities to those that have non-EHS chemicals.

Owners and operators of facilities with EHS chemicals at or above the threshold planning quantity (TPQ) were required to notify the SERC of jurisdiction that the facility has these EHS chemicals no later than mid-1987. After that, the owner or operator of any new facility with EHS chemicals at or above the TPQ, or of an established facility that begins having EHS chemicals above the TPQ, the notification that these EHS are there must be submitted to the SERC within 60 days.

The SERC must pass on this EHS facilities information to the EPA, even additional facilities required under state law expanding EPCRA reporting requirements.

A State or local official acting in an official capacity may have access to Tier Two information by submitting a request to the SERC or LEPC. Upon receipt of this official's request, the SERC or LEPC will request the Tier Two information from the facility and provide it to the official. If the facility has already filed its Tier Two report, the SERC or LEPC will just provide it to the official.

If the general public requests a facility's Tier Two Report through the SERC or LEPC, and the Tier Two Report is already on file, the Tier Two Report must be available during normal business hours for review and copying. If the facility's Tier Two Report is not on file with the SERC or LEPC, AND the facility had reportable quantities of a chemical, the person requesting the Tier Two Report must include the general need for the information. The SERC or LEPC may request this information, but this is discretionary, and when it is received, make it available to the requesting person during normal business hours for review and copying.

A SERC or LEPC must respond to a request for tier Two information with 45 days.

Any SERC or LEPC may bring civil suit against an owner or operator of a facility for failure to provide Tier Two information or for failure to provide emergency planning information needed for regional emergency plans.


The LEPC is an emergency planning body with jurisdiction over an emergency planning district. In most states, each county has an LEPC, and the emergency planning district is the entire county. In others, there are regional LEPCs, and there may be several counties or parts of counties in the LEPC district. The specifics of how the EPCRA law was implemented in the various states was left to the states, with some EPA oversight and review.

The LEPC is a volunteer group made up of representatives from certain interests charged with emergency planning duties. The EPCRA law requires that certain groups or organizations MUST be represented. The EPCRA law requires the LEPC to include, "at a minimum, representatives from each of the following groups or organizations: elected State and local officials; law enforcement, civil defense, fire fighting, first aid, health, local environmental, hospital and transportation personnel; broadcast and print media; community groups; and owners and operators of facilities subject to [EPCRA]." {Note the commas and semicolons.}

Sometimes LEPCs do not have all of the members required by EPCRA, but it is easy to see why these diverse entities are needed for an LEPC and EPCRA to work. It is also easy to see that getting all of these diverse interests to the same meeting at the same time can present a problem. But effective emergency planning and preparedness is in the best interests of everyone. Since many of the LEPC members come from government positions, there can be political influences on LEPC decisions. It is a good idea to attend the LEPC meetings and comment about the issue if some required positions are unrepresented, or if there is a detected bias counter to the goals of emergency planning. The idea behind the volunteer committee was that emergency planning and preparedness is a mutual concern, and that other agendas would not be present. Active public interest and participation in LEPC meetings is encouraged.


The EPCRA law requires the LEPC to appoint a chairperson, and to establish rules by which the LEPC must function. These LEPC rules must address provisions for public notification of LEPC activities, public meetings to discuss the emergency plan, public comments, response to such public comments by the LEPC, and distribution of the emergency plan.


The LEPC must also establish procedures for receiving and processing requests from the public for EPCRA information (Tier Two Reports, written follow-up reports, MSDSs, emergency plans). This procedure must include the designation of an official to serve as a coordinator for EPCRA-related information. The public has an absolute right to this information. While there can legally be a 45-day waiting period to view a requested Tier Two report, the MSDS information, facility and regional emergency plan, written follow-up report, all must be available at the LEPC during normal business hours. Generally, the public should request the information in writing, and preferably call for an appointment to review and copy the requested information.

The public and facility owners and operators are encouraged by EPCRA to volunteer for the LEPC. When addressing the LEPC, it is important to be polite and courteous to the LEPC. Remember that these LEPC members are volunteering their time and working to make things safer for everyone. Different LEPCs are likely to be a natural ally when it comes to ideas for reducing hazards and risks in the community, and in assisting with EPCRA reporting.


The LEPC must complete an emergency plan that includes the information or takes into account the information from all the facility emergency plans submitted to it. The LEPC must review this LEPC emergency plan at least annually, or more frequently as circumstances change in the community or at any facility that requires a change in the overall plan. Ideally, if facilities are changing the amounts of EHS chemicals stored on-site, these changes will be communicated to the LEPC, fire department, and SERC immediately. The LEPC must publish the location and time of the annual meeting to review the overall emergency plan.

If a new EHS is suddenly introduced into the industrial base of a community, the firefighters and emergency response infrastructure may need to get specialized training and equipment in order to safely and properly deal with a spill or a release of the new EHS chemical. This can be true if there is suddenly a much larger amount of an EHS in a community so that it warrants special consideration. Alternatively, there is no point buying gear and equipment needed to fight a chemical incident that won't happen. By reviewing the provided inventory of facilities' Tier Two information, the LEPC should be able to determine regionally what equipment and gear is needed. It is important to include likely transportation routes of toxic materials such as major roadways or railroads in the plan.

There may be other issues involved if the specialized training or equipment puts a sudden or large financial burden on the emergency response infrastructure. Some communities believe that facilities creating the extra financial burden for effective chemical emergency preparedness should pay for the extra burden. Others may expect the taxpayers to pay. There might not be the fire department budget to adequately purchase the needed protective gear for firefighters or the specialized equipment needed. These issues are political and priority decisions for the community.

There is often a resource (money and time) problem with LEPCs. Some do not have a paid support staff. Others are under funded. There are grants available from the EPA and FEMA for emergency planning, but they do not cover the entire cost. Although some of the LEPC members are paid staff from fire departments, emergency planning agencies, industry, state and local government, they are not often specifically assigned to work a large number of hours on LEPC-related work. The paid government bureaucracies that have oversight of wastewater and hazardous wastes, which are very diluted when compared to the pure chemicals used as raw materials in today's industrial processes compare starkly with the unpaid volunteers who have oversight of the purer, more concentrated, and usually with more potential of toxic impact, chemicals that travel the roadways and that are stored in facilities.

The SERC reviews the emergency plan prepared by the LEPCs under its jurisdiction. Then the SERC reviews all of these various LEPC emergency plans and makes recommendations on revisions to the emergency plans to ensure coordination of each LEPC's emergency plan with the plans of other emergency planning districts. Accidents can happen over LEPC boundary lines.


Tribal Emergency Response Commissions (TERCs) are another consideration for the public, LEPCs, SERCs, and fire departments. LEPCs, SERCs, and even fire departments may have to work out mutual aid agreements or information and resource-sharing agreements with Native American reservations to implement EPCRA. A SERC and LEPC will not have jurisdiction over facilities on tribal lands unless there is some form of legally-binding agreement allowing this jurisdiction.

An operator or owner of a facility on an Indian reservation may not be sure to whom the facility's chemical inventory report and facility emergency plan must be reported. It may unclear what entity is going to respond in the event of an incident involving hazardous chemicals. The public may be unclear about which entity to approach for Community Right-To-Know information. If a TERC exists, it must provide access to the same EPCRA information that SERCs and LEPCs must provide.

The TERC will not likely exist already as a legal entity on an Indian reservation, because EPCRA became law after most tribal lands were designated. A tribal board or governing committee will likely have to create laws or ordinances implementing EPCRA. This also provides an opportunity for the TERC to have more stringent regulations than EPCRA. It is a bad idea for a tribe to not have a TERC or some other entity with the powers a SERC or LEPC has under EPCRA. There are proportionately more industrial facilities on tribal lands in America than on non-tribal lands, in terms of land area used and population. A TERC might be the only entity a facility would need to report to under EPCRA if the TERC fulfills the duties of a SERC, LEPC, and fire department. A TERC will usually have the combined powers given to SERCs, LEPCs, and fire departments under EPCRA.

The Gila River Indian Community, which is located south of Phoenix, Arizona, has drafted a good example of an ordinance implementing EPCRA.

EPA has special programs to assist TERCs.


The regional response teams, which were created by CERCLA, may review and comment upon the emergency plan prepared by the LEPC, upon request from the LEPC. The regional response teams may also, upon request from the LEPC, review and comment on other issues related to the preparation, implementation, or exercise of the emergency plan. There are excellent source materials for emergency planning provided by the National Response Team and available at no charge at the EPCRA Hotline.
Anyone can call the Hotline -- it offers information to a broad audience of callers with diverse backgrounds and varying degrees of regulatory knowledge. To speak with Information Specialists about regulatory questions or to order documents, call: 1-(800) 424-9346 or DC Area Local (703) 412-9810 or TDD (800) 553-7672 or TDD DC Area Local (703) 412-3323

(Some of the EPCRA Hotline's Information and the Guide to EPA's Electronic Resources is available on the Internet at: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hotline/netguide.htm)

Ask for the NRT-1 "Hazardous Materials Emergency Planning Guide" published March 1987; and NRT-1A, "Criteria for Review of Hazardous Materials Emergency Plans" published in May 1988. These "orange books" are quite comprehensive, and comparing the LEPC's emergency plan to the comments and information in these guidebooks is a good idea.


To locate the LEPC of jurisdiction and/or the SERC, use this LEPC/SERC locator database:
http://www.epa.gov/ceppo/lepclist.htm or call the state Governor's Office.

Explanation of Other Emergency Planning Information

There is more to emergency planning and emergency planning information pertinent to the facility owner/operator than just the information available from EPCRA. Local fire departments have their own regulations, usually a version of the Uniform Fire Code, which is reviewed and changed, and later adopted by fire departments and municipalities. The fire code should be available at the reference department of the local library. The Uniform Fire Code requires a Hazardous Materials Management Plan (HMMP) for facilities that use, store, or process hazardous materials. HMMP information requirements have many considerations and similarities to the information required by EPCRA, only the HMMP usually will require far more information. If the Uniform Fire Code requirements are not available in the local library, try asking the local fire department, using the local fire department's non-emergency number. Facility owners and operators should be aware of hazard warning labels like fire diamonds and transportation placards. Is the fire department's fire code up to date?


People often notice a four colored sign on a building called a fire diamond. Fire diamonds located on tanks and buildings indicate the level of chemical hazard located there. The four colors are blue, red, yellow, and white. The numbers superimposed over the colors rank the severity or danger, ranging from one to four, with four being the highest rating. The blue indicates potential health effects. A four in the blue means severe and immediate health effects, including death, and a one time exposure can cause lasting health problems. The red indicates explosiveness or readiness to ignite. A four in the red indicates an extremely high ability to ignite and combust. The Yellow concerns Reactivity, or the chemical's ability to react with other chemicals in the environment. The white indicates special precautions, usually used for oxy, or oxidizing agent or whether water reactive chemicals are present (indicated by a W with a line through it).
Fire Hazard - Red
4 Flash Point below 73 F (Boiling Point below 100 F)
3 Flash Point below 73 F (Boiling point at/above 100 f) and/or at/above 73 F
- not exceeding 100 F
2 Flash Point above 100 F, not exceeding 200 F
1 Flash Point above 200 F
0 Will not burn

Reactivity (Instability) - Yellow
4 May detonate
3 Shock and heat may detonate
2 Violent chemical change
1 Unstable if heated
0 Stable

4 Deadly
3 Extreme Danger
2 Hazardous
1 Slightly Hazardous
0 Normal Material

Specific Hazard - White
OX or OXY Oxidizer
W (with line through it) Use no water

Sometimes fire diamonds can be misleading about the chemical hazards actually at a facility. The numbers on the fire diamond reflect the highest number for the type of hazard of all of the different chemicals for which an MSDS is kept at the facility, and do not necessarily indicate that a single specific chemical has all those characteristics. A facility could have one chemical with a high number in the health section and a low number in reactivity, for example, and have a second chemical with a low number in the health section and a high number in the reactivity section, but the fire diamond would show the highest number in both the health (blue) and reactivity (yellow) section that these chemicals have. Seeing a diamond with a 4 in the blue, red, and yellow boxes does not mean that such a chemical is at the facility. The highest number any chemical achieves for any of the colored sections is what's placed in the fire diamond. The fire diamond could be alluding to one chemical or a hundred different chemicals. It is easy to see why something more specific than a fire diamond is necessary for emergency response.

And the lack of a fire diamond is not definite evidence that dangerous chemicals are not at a facility. EPCRA does not require fire diamonds to be posted, but any good facility emergency planning should include posting of fire diamonds or other indicators as required by the local fire department. The Uniform Fire Code requires fire diamonds or other similar postings, but in some cases a local fire department does not adopt the Uniform Fire Code, or is behind in updating these requirements. There may also be a backlog in facility fire inspections that keeps inspectors from the fire department from noticing that a fire diamond is missing.

If tanks and/or barrels of chemicals are visible at a facility, and no fire diamond or other posted sign is apparent, this should be investigated for compliance by facility owners and operators. Facility owners and operators should also be sure to post fire diamonds so that when facility doors are opened, shut, or left open, the fire diamond is still easily and readily visible.