Are farmers subject to EPCRA? If so, why? What exactly do farmers have to do?
There are four major reporting requirements under EPCRA: emergency planning notification (Section 302), emergency release notification (Section 304), community right-to-know (Section 311 material safety data sheets and Section 312 emergency and hazardous chemical inventory forms) and toxic chemical release forms (Section 313 "emissions inventory"). Each reporting provision has different requirements for chemicals and facilities covered. Due to this complexity in the statute itself, each Section must be read carefully to understand the chemicals covered and the facilities to which the Section applies. Farmers may be subject to several of the reporting requirements of EPCRA.
Emergency Planning Notification (Section 302)
Farm owners and operators are most likely to be subject to the emergency planning requirements of Section 302. Farms were not exempted from this provision, since the law was designed to generally identify all facilities that have any of the listed extremely hazardous substances (EHS) present in excess of its threshold planning quantity (TPQ). The TPQ is based on the amount of any of these substances which could, upon release, present human health hazards which warrant emergency planning. The TPQ emergency planning trigger is based on these public health concerns rather than the type of facility where the chemicals might be located. The type of facility and degree of hazard presented at any particular site, however, are relevant factors for consideration by the local emergency planning committees. For many farms, chemicals in these quantities may not present a significant hazard to their communities due to their rural location or short holding times, other farms may well present a potentially significant hazard if the chemicals are located in a suburban, populated area or near a school, hospital, or nursing home. Even in a rural area, large volume storage could be a concern. Although these substances may only be stored or used periodically, there is always the possibility of accidents which could present a hazard to the community. Finally, in the event of a fire or other emergency on the farm, local responders should know what chemicals they might encounter in order to take appropriate precautionary measures. The hazards posed by an individual farm or ranch must be evaluated on a site-specific basis. Communities must know which facilities may present a potential for chemical releases so they can determine the nature of the risk to the public and to emergency responders in the event of a release. EPCRA established State and local planning organizations and notification requirements to meet these needs. Local emergency planning committees can best address these concerns by working with farm representatives. To meet the emergency planning requirements of EPCRA, farm owners and operators must determine if they have any of the listed EHSs in excess of the threshold planning quantity (TPQ) present on their farms at any one time in concentrations greater than one percent by weight. This requirement applies even if the chemicals are present for only a short period of time before use. There is no exemption to this requirement for farms or for substances used in routine agricultural operations. If any of the EHSs is present in excess of its TPQ, simply notify (preferably in writing) the State emergency response commission (SERC) and the local emergency planning committee. The notification need not include the names and quantities of identified substances, but EPA encourages the inclusion of such information because it will be useful to the SERC and the local committees in organizing and setting priorities for emergency planning activities. This notification was required by May 17, 1987 or 60 days after the TPQ is exceeded for at least one extremely hazardous substance, whichever is later. If such notification has not been made, farm owners and operators should do so immediately. This is a one-time notification. Once made, owners or operators are not required to notify the SERC further of other extremely hazardous substances that may become present on the farm; however, they may be required to inform the local emergency planning committee of such changes. EPA may revise the list of extremely hazardous substances. A facility which has any substances added to the list but which was not previously required to notify must notify its SERC and local emergency planning committee within 60 days. Farmers required to notify under Section 302 must designate representatives to work with the local emergency planning committee to address any need for emergency planning involving their farms. Local emergency planning committees were to be established by the SERC by August 17, 1987. There is no requirement for farm owners or operators to develop a farm emergency plan. A comprehensive emergency response plan is to be developed by the local emergency planning committee for the local emergency planning district it covers. This plan should address, to the extent possible, all potential chemical release hazards in the district including, where appropriate, chemicals on farms.
Emergency Release Notification (Section 304)
Farmers may also be subject to emergency release notification requirements (Section 304) if they release any of the listed extremely hazardous substances or CERCLA hazardous substances in excess of its reportable quantity (RQ). Reportable quantities are the amounts of these substances which, if released, must be reported. (RQs for Superfund hazardous substances are specified in EPA regulations found in 40 CFR 302.4. The CFR is available in public libraries and EPA Regional Offices). Section 304 requires reporting of such releases to SERC and local emergency planning committees. Reporting of releases of CERCLA hazardous substances to the National Response Center (1-800-424-8802) has been required since 1980. Section 304 also requires a written follow-up emergency notice to the SERC and local emergency planning committee. Exempted from reporting are pesticides registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) when used generally in accordance with its intended purpose. Also, normal application of fertilizer would not need to be reported. However, an accidental release of such substances (or other release not generally in accord with its intended purpose) in excess of the RQ must be reported. EPCRA emergency release notification (Section 304) has two limitations which are not present in CERCLA release reporting. First, EPCRA (Section 304) release reporting applies only to facilities which produce, use, or store a "hazardous chemical." Because the definition of "hazardous chemical" in EPCRA specifically excludes substances used in routine agricultural operations and household or consumer products, some farms or ranches will not be subject to Section 304. Secondly, releases reportable under Section 304 will include only those releases which have potential for off-site exposure and which equal or exceed the applicable reportable quantity for that substance. Thus, spills of pesticides which would require release reporting to the National Response Center under Superfund would not be subject to local and State reporting under Section 304 unless there were a potential for off-site exposure.
Community Right-to-Know (Sections 311 and 312)
Community right-to-know reporting (Sections 311 and 312) is limited to those facilities required to prepare or have available MSDSs under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Sections 311 and 312 became applicable beyond the manufacturing sector beginning September 24, 1988, as a result of the expansion of OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, but chemicals used in routine agricultural operations and household products are not subject to these reporting requirements. Chemicals used for such purposes are excluded from the EPCRA definition of "hazardous chemical" to which the reporting requirement applies.
EPCRA also includes various provisions for civil, administrative and criminal penalties and citizen suits for failure to comply with the requirements of the law. For assistance in meeting these requirements, farmers may call on their State and county offices of the USDA Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, which have the list of EHS chemicals, their TPQs and RQs, and a list of SERCs. They may also call at the Superfund, TRI, EPCRA RMP and Oil Information Center (the "Call Center"): 1-800-424-9346 (in the Washington, D.C. area: 703-412-9810).