Everything You Need To Know About Spills

Back to the Table of Contents page for information on many other subjects!

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Emergency - no time to read this?  To report oil and hazardous chemical spills, call the National Response Center 1-800-424-8802

bulletOverview bulletHow it works bulletHow to respond to Emergencies - Guide bullet General Spills regulations and guidance bullet Awareness Level response bullet Operations Level response bullet Other response considerations bullet Resource contact list bullet Glossary of relevant terms bullet Placard Table
bulletERNS - The Emergency Response Notification System
bulletOil Spill Information bulletChemical Spills bulletSPCC Plans (Spill Prevention, Countol & Countermeasures) bulletRelated Information bullet Discharge of Oil Regulation: Summary of Key Provisions bullet The latest Spills news and headlines about recent spills bullet The latest news about Chemical Accidents horizontal rule

How The System Works

First Line of Defense

When a release or spill occurs, the company responsible for the release, its response contractors, the local fire and police departments, and the local emergency response personnel provide the first line of defense. If needed, a variety of state agencies stand ready to support, assist, or take over response operations if an incident is beyond local capabilities. In cases where a local government or Indian tribe conducts temporary emergency measures in response to a hazardous substance release, but does not have emergency response funds budgeted, EPA operates the Local Governments Reimbursement program that will reimburse local governments or Indian tribes up to $25,000 per incident.

This flowchart summarizes the steps.

Federal Involvement

If the amount of a hazardous substance release or oil spill exceeds the established reporting trigger , the organization responsible for the release or spill is required by law to notify the federal government's National Response Center (NRC) . Once a report is made, the NRC immediately notifies a pre-designated EPA or U.S. Coast Guard On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) , based on the location of the spill. The procedure for determining the lead agency is clearly defined so there is no confusion about who is in charge during a response. The OSC determines the status of the local response and monitors the situation to determine whether, or how much, federal involvement is necessary. It is the OSC's job to ensure that the cleanup, whether accomplished by industry, local, state, or federal officials, is appropriate, timely, and minimizes human and environmental damage.

The OSC may determine that the local action is sufficient and that no additional federal action is required. If the incident is large or complex, the federal OSC may remain on the scene to monitor the response and advise on the deployment of personnel and equipment. However, the federal OSC will take command of the response in the following situations:

bulletIf the party responsible for the chemical release or oil spill is unknown or not cooperative; bulletIf the OSC determines that the spill or release is beyond the capacity of the company, local, or state responders to manage; or bulletFor oil spills, if the incident is determined to present a substantial threat to public health or welfare due to the size or character of the spill.

The OSC may request additional support to respond to a release or spill, such as additional contractors, technical support from EPA's Environmental Response Team , or Scientific Support Coordinators from EPA or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration . The OSC also may seek support from the Regional Response Team to access special expertise or to provide additional logistical support. In addition, the National Response Team stands ready to provide backup policy and logistical support to the OSC and the RRT during an incident.

The federal government will remain involved at the oil spill site following response actions to undertake a number of activities, including assessing damages, supporting restoration efforts, recovering response costs from the parties responsible for the spill, and, if necessary, enforcing the liability and penalty provisions of the Clean Water Act , as amended by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 .

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Discharge of Oil Regulation: Summary of Key Provisions

bullet Section 110.1 Defines oil, discharge, navigable waters, and other terms relevant to oil releases. bullet Section 110.2 Establishes the types of discharges that are subject to this regulation. bullet Section 110.3 Establishes the criteria that determine when an oil discharge into navigable waters is harmful to the public health or welfare. bullet Section 110.4 Establishes the criteria that determine when an oil discharge into the contiguous zone of the U.S. is harmful to the public health or welfare. bullet Section 110.5 Establishes the criteria that determine when an oil discharge into waters beyond the contiguous zone of the U.S. is harmful to the public health or welfare. bullet Section 110.6 Prohibits any person from discharging oil into U.S. waters in an amount that is harmful to the public health or welfare. bullet Section 110.7 Exempts from this rule those discharges from properly functioning vessel engines. bullet Section 110.8 Prohibits the addition of dispersants or emulsifiers to oil which is going to be discharged, if it results in a violation of Part 110. bullet Section 110.9 Authorizes the Administrator of the EPA to allow oil to be discharged for research or demonstration projects related to oil spill prevention or control. bullet Section 110.10 Requires the person in charge of a facility or vessel to report any harmful discharge of oil to the Federal government's National Response Center or other available authority. bullet Section 110.11 Defines the term "discharge" and notes exceptions for vessel engines and discharges permitted under MARPOL. horizontal rule

ERNS Fact Sheets

Learn about ERNS, the Emergency Response Notification System, from these informative fact sheets:

bullet An Overview of ERNS -- This fact sheet contains general ERNS information, such as: reporting requirements for reports contained in ERNS, how spill notifications in ERNS are collected, the number of release reports for three general material types, uses for and limitations of ERNS data, the different data output formats, and a map of EPA Regions and their FOIA offices.
bullet ERNS Statistics -- This fact sheet gives examples of one use of ERNS data - statistical analyses of large data sets. The information is presented in tables, pie charts, and a map, and identifies the annual number of CERCLA and petroleum notifications in ERNS for various size categories between 1987 and 1994; the different environmental media affected by reported CERCLA and petroleum spills; and the number of reported spills per state between 1987 and 1994.
bullet ERNS and CERCLA -- This fact sheet focuses on reports in ERNS of releases of CERCLA hazardous substances. ERNS and CERCLA discusses: reported causes of CERCLA hazardous substance spills in ERNS, the definition of a CERCLA hazardous substance, the five most frequently reported CERCLA hazardous substances in ERNS from 1987-1993, CERCLA reporting requirements, and what happens to a spill notification after it is received by the NRC.
bullet ERNS and Oil -- This fact sheet concentrates on notifications of releases of petroleum and non-petroleum oils in ERNS. Specific information includes: annual number of reports of releases of petroleum and non-petroleum oils between 1987 and 1996; examples of petroleum, non-petroleum, and animal and vegetable oils; reported sources of petroleum and non-petroleum oil spills; and reporting requirements for oil spills.
bullet ERNS and Site Searches -- This fact sheet contains information on conducting searches of the ERNS database for a specific location (e.g., street address, county, state), such as: a background on site searches, how to request a site search, how much an ERNS search will cost, and the available formats of the report generated if the search yields any results.
bullet ERNS and OPA 90 -- This fact sheet investigates the effect that the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) may have had on the number and size of release notifications in ERNS. The fact sheet discusses: the background of OPA 90, the average number of annual reports of oil spills in ERNS between 1989 and 1995, sources of oil spills to inland and coastal waters, and the average size of reported oil spills in ERNS between 1989 and 1995. horizontal rule

Related Information

Risk Management Plans

SARA Title III Fact Sheet: The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act

Download this brief EPA fact sheet here

Chemicals in Your Community: A Guide to the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act

This page on EHSO is a very thorough guide to the EPCRA program, from overview through implementation!

National Response Team Integrated Contingency Plan

Note: The official version of the One Plan Guidance was published in the Federal Register on June 5, 1996, and the official version in PDF format below contains the complete document as published. However, a correction was published in the Federal Register since several lines from table "DOT/RSPA FRP (49 CFR 194)" were omitted in the original published version. The text for the FR correction notice is also included below. The complete corrected version is available in WP below.)

The National Response Team's Integrated Contingency Plan Guidance (One Plan)(Corrected Version) (wpd/266 KB)

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News about Accidents and Spills

bullet The latest news about Chemical Accidents


Incident Type Per Year 1991 - 1996 1997 - 200 3
Fax and Email Notifications 1991 - 1996 1997 - 200 3
EPA Notifications By Region 1991 - 1996 1997 - 200 3
USCG Notifications By Unit 1991 - 1996 1997 - 200 3
DOT Notifications By Unit 1991 - 1996 1997 - 200 3
DHS Notifications By Unit   2003


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This page was updated on 11-Jan-2020