Building Your “Reportable” Chemical Spills/Release Plan: An EH&S From Experience Bonus!

The Fall 2022 issue of Hixson’s EH&S From Experience newsletter reviewed “Notification Requirements Associated with “Reportable Quantity (RQ)” Chemical Spills/Releases.” Below, we offer additional information for each of the potential points to cover within a facility action plan for incident reporting:

  1. What regulations apply to the chemicals located onsite? The two USEPA regulations to consider are the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA – 40 CFR Part 302) and Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA – 40 CFR Part 355). Both are valuable because they specify chemical names and corresponding RQs. Additionally, under the Oil Pollution Prevention regulations of the Clean Water Act (CWA – 40 CFR 110 & 112), oil releases that cause a visible film or sheen upon the surface of the water and/or 25 gallons into the environment are considered RQ releases. For more information, USEPA’s website contains a consolidated list of chemicals (EPCRA, CERCLA, CAA Section 112(r)).
  2. Are there chemicals in storage in excess of a RQ? Common chemicals at GMP facilities in quantities at or above their RQs are anhydrous ammonia for refrigeration systems, oil products (e.g., vegetable and/or petroleum), sanitation chemicals, spent parts washer solution, waste ammonia, and waste ink solutions. Check your SARA Tier Two Reports and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for other chemicals on-site that may require notification planning. TIP: Create a list of products containing hazardous chemicals (e.g., a cleaning solution containing Nitric Acid) and calculate the amount of the product (gallons, number of containers, etc.) needed to be released to reach the chemical’s RQ. If a spill occurs, use this list to quickly determine if a reporting threshold has been met.
  3. Which agencies must receive a “verbal” notice? If a chemical is released to the environment in an amount that meets or exceeds the RQ (The definition of environment includes surface water, groundwater, land surface, and air.) For chemicals listed only on the EPCRA list, verbal notice must be provided to the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC), Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), and local Fire Department. (Conveniently, these are also the entities that receive the SARA Tier Two Reports.) For a chemical on the CERCLA list and Oil, notify the above agencies as well as the National Response Center at (800) 424- 8802 (or (202) 267-2675 in the Washington, DC area) or report electronically at their website.  Note: If the release enters the sanitary sewer system, the local POTW should also be contacted.
  4. What are the timeframes for “verbal” notification? CERCLA requires the “person in charge” of a facility, as soon as he or she has knowledge of a release of a hazardous substance in an amount equal to or greater than a RQ, to report the release “immediately.” The standard does not specify a definition for “immediately.” We have seen some state EPCRA programs and/or local Sanitation Districts specify a time period of anywhere from within 15 – 30 minutes from the time you determine an RQ has been exceeded. If you are unsure if the RQ was exceeded, begin the process of documenting the quantity of the release. Use in-house expertise (e.g., Refrigeration Technician) and/or outside expertise to assist in determining how much was released. Note: If it appears that this process may take more than a day, it would be advisable to go ahead and make the “verbal” notifications.
  5. What needs to be included in the verbal notification? The NRC (CERCLA Releases) request individuals reporting a release to provide as much of the following information as possible:
    • Name, address, and telephone number of the person reporting and the responsible party
    • Specific location of the incident
    • Date and time the incident occurred or was discovered
    • Name of the chemical/material released
    • Source and cause of the release
    • Total quantity discharged
    • Medium into which the substance was discharged
    • Amount spilled into water
    • Weather conditions
    • Name of the carrier or vessel, the railcar/truck number, or other identifying information
    • Number and type of injuries or fatalities
    • Whether an evacuation has occurred
    • Estimation of the dollar amount of property damage
    • Description of current and future cleanup actions
    • Other agencies notified or about to be notified
    • For releases of EPCRA chemicals that are not on the CERCLA list, provide additional information:
      • Whether the substance is an Extremely Hazardous Substance (EHS)
      • Media into which the release occurred
      • Associated health risks and medical attention necessary for exposed individuals
      • Precautions to take due to the release
      • Name and telephone number of contact person for further information

One tip to consider: Create a reporting sheet that includes space for handwritten answers/comments to the above information. In the event of a spill/release, this sheet could help keep your facility on track with your reporting and documentation needs.

6. When does a “written” follow-up report need to be provided?  Along with the immediate verbal notice, EPCRA section 304(c) requires a follow-up written report must be submitted to the SERC and LEPC as soon as practicable. This report must include additional information regarding response actions taken, any known or anticipated acute or chronic health risks associated with the release, and, where appropriate, advice on medical attention for exposed individuals.

In addition, verify if your state and/or local agencies (e.g., POTW) require any additional information or specify a timeframe for when the written follow-up report must be submitted. (See this USEPA webpage for more information.) Verify with the NRC that they do not require any follow-up reports. Typically, these reports are handled by the SERC and LEPC.

For additional information, read Hixson’s EH&S Newsletter today!


Notification Requirements Associated with “Reportable” Chemical Spills/Releases

Small Changes = Big Impacts: Flammable Liquid Storage Code Review


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