Hazardous Material & Chemical Spills:
Everything You Need To Know

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bulletRequirements Overview bulletHow to Report bulletHow Reports are Handled bulletChemical Fact Sheets horizontal rule

How to Report

A report of a hazardous substance release or oil spill takes only a few minutes. To report a release or spill, contact the federal government's centralized reporting center, the National Response Center (NRC), at 1-800-424-8802. The NRC is staffed 24 hours a day by U.S. Coast Guard personnel, who will ask you to provide as much information about the incident as possible, including:

bulletYour name, location, organization, and telephone number bulletName and address of the party responsible for the incident bulletDate and time of the incident bulletLocation of the incident bulletSource and cause of the release or spill bulletTypes of material(s) released or spilled bulletQuantity of materials released or spilled bulletMedium (e.g. land, water) affected by release or spill bulletDanger or threat posed by the release or spill bulletNumber and types of injuries or fatalities (if any) bulletWeather conditions at the incident location bulletName of the carrier or vessel, the railcar/truck number, or other indentifying information bulletWhether an evacuation has occurred bulletOther agencies notified or about to be notified bulletAny other information that may help emergency personnel respond to the incident

If reporting directly to the NRC is not possible, reports also can be made to the EPA Regional office or the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in the area where the incident occurred. In general, EPA should be contacted if the incident involves a release to inland areas or inland waters, and the U.S. Coast Guard should be contacted for releases to coastal waters, the Great Lakes, ports and harbors, or the Mississippi River. The EPA or U.S. Coast Guard will relay release and spill reports to the NRC promptly.

A report of a release of an extremely hazardous substance should be made to the state emergency response commission (SERC) or the local emergency planning committee (LEPC) established for the location where the incident occurred. To identify the appropriate SERC and LEPC, contact the EPCRA Hotline at 1-800-535-0202.

How Reports Are Handled

All reports of hazardous substance releases and oil spills made to the federal government are maintained by the National Response Center. The NRC records and maintains all reports in a computer database called the Emergency Response Notification System, which is available to the public. The NRC is staffed 24 hours a day by U.S. Coast Guard personnel. The NRC relays the release information to an EPA or U.S. Coast Guard On-Scene Coordinator (OSC), depending on the location of the incident. In every area of the country, OSCs are on-call and ready to respond to a an oil or hazardous substance release at any time of the day. After receiving a report of a release, the federal OSC evaluates the situation and, if the OSC decides that a federal emergency response action is necessary, the National Response System is activated.

Superfund Reportable Quantities

Under the Superfund law, Congress established an initial reportable quantity or RQ of one pound for Superfund hazardous substances. Congress also required EPA to issue
regulations to adjust these initial RQs to more accurately reflect their potential to threaten public health and welfare and the environment. To date, EPA has established or proposed adjustments to the RQs for all of the roughly 800 Superfund substances.

RQs are adjusted to one of five levels: 1, 10, 100, 1,000, or 5,000 pounds. EPA bases adjustments to the RQs on the intrinsic characteristics of each hazardous substance, such as the aquatic toxicity, acute and chronic toxicity, ignitability, reactivity, and potential carcinogenicity. An RQ value is established for each of these characteristics of a hazardous substance, with the most stringent RQ value (i.e., the lowest quantity) becoming the final RQ or reporting trigger for that hazardous substance.

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EPCRA Reportable Quantities

Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), Congress designated 360 extremely hazardous substances that require the reporting of releases to state and local authorities. The RQs for the extremely hazardous substances are based on the substance's acute lethal toxicity. 

This page was updated on August 01, 2004

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