What is SARA Title III?
In 1980, the U.S. enacted a federal law called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act or CERCLA to facilitate the cleaning-up of sites contaminated by hazardous chemicals. Enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this law is also commonly known as Superfund. The name Superfund is derived from the special trust fund CERCLA instituted to pay for the clean-up of sites when the responsible party is no longer identifiable.
In 1986, the U.S. made significant changes and additions to Superfund with the passage of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act or SARA. The law was a direct response to the 1984 chemical disaster in Bhopal, India where methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a tank and killed approximately 3,800 people and injured thousands more.
One of the biggest changes instituted under SARA was the passage of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To- Know Act or EPCRA. A separate law unto itself, it is commonly known as SARA Title III and it sets requirements for local and state emergency planning around hazardous chemicals, the right of the public to access information on chemical hazards in their community, and the reporting responsibilities for facilities that use, store, and / or release hazardous chemicals.
SARA Title III has four provisions:
- Emergency Planning (Sections 301-303)
- Emergency Release Notification (Section 304)
- Hazardous Chemical Storage Reporting Requirements (Section 311-312)
- Toxic Chemical Release Inventory (Section 313)
Steep Costs of SARA Violations
Sections 325 and 326 of SARA Title III outline penalties for non-compliance and give citizens the right to sue facilities that fail to meet their obligations. Penalties include:
- Fines Up to $10,000 to $82,500 Per Violation / Per Day
- Criminal Penalties of Up to $50,000 or Five Years in Prison
- Facility Closures
- Negative Press and Damage to Corporate Image
*You Should Know: EPCRA requires the owner, operator or person in charge of a facility to immediately notify proper authorities as soon as they have “knowledge” of a reportable release. By knowledge, the EPA means actual knowledge or knowledge that could have been known if due diligence had been exercised. In other words, poor planning or unnecessary reporting delays are not viable defenses against this responsibility.
SARA Title III By Section
SARA Title III or EPCRA has four main components, as listed below. Any facility with responsibilities under one section will likely have additional responsibilities under another section, so read carefully.
Emergency Planning (Sections 301-303)
Section 301 - Mandates the establishment of State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) and Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs). SERCs and LPECs are tasked with carrying out the work of SARA Title III on the state and local level.
Section 302 - Sets a one-time reporting requirement for facilities with Extremely Hazardous Substances (EHS) in excess of the Threshold Planning Quantity (TPQ). EHSs and their TPQ’s can be found on the EPA’s List of Lists.
Section 303 - Requires LPEC’s to create regional emergency response plans based working with information from facilities covered under Section 302. Facilities are required to provide LPECs with the name of the facility emergency coordinator and any necessary information the LEPC needs to develop such plans.
Emergency Release Notification (Section 304)
Section 304 - In the event of an accidental chemical release that exceeds minimal Reportable Quantity (RQ), Section 304 compels facilities to notify SERCs, LPECs and fire departments for all affected region as well as the National Response Center. A written follow-up is also required.
Hazardous Chemical Storage Reporting Requirements, a.k.a. Community Right-to-Know (Sections 311-312)
Section 311 - Requires facilities with hazardous chemicals in quantities above certain thresholds (for which they are obligated by OSHA to maintain MSDSs) to provide copies of the MSDSs for those chemicals to the SERC, LEPC and local fire department. In lieu of MSDSs, facilities may instead provide a list of their chemicals grouped by hazard categories. Section 311 is a one-time reporting obligation (or whenever there is significant new information).
Section 312 - Companies with chemicals in sufficient quantities to trigger obligations under Section 311 must also submit an annual emergency and hazardous chemical inventory form to the SERC, LEPC and local fire department. The required form is usually either a Tier I or Tier II form, with Tier II forms being the most common type. Learn more about Tier II forms.
Toxic Chemical Release Inventory (Section 313)
Section 313 - Requires facilities with 10 or more employees that use certain toxic chemicals in quantities above threshold levels to report annually on the use, release and disposal of those chemicals on Form R. Information collected from all facilities on Form R is compiled into the Toxics Release Inventory or TRI. Chemicals that trigger TRI reporting can be found on the EPA’s List of Lists.
The preceding is a thumbnail sketch of SARA Title III and the obligations facilities that use hazardous chemicals have under the regulation. Be sure to visit the EPA’s website for the most up-to-date information on EPCRA and other environmental considerations.
SARA Title III To-Do List
Facilities with obligations under SARA Title III must work to ensure compliance. The following to do list is meant to be instructive, not exhaustive. Make sure you understand your specific obligations based upon the type and quantities of hazardous chemicals at your facility as well as the specific requirements laid out by your SERC and LEPC.
Chemical Inventory – The first step to compliance is an accurate and up-to-date MSDS library. A properly maintained MSDS library can be used to quickly create a chemical inventory. Furthermore, a good electronic solution can quickly print out a list of workplace chemicals, track the location and quantities of onsite chemicals, and cross reference chemicals against the EPA’s lists and threshold reporting quantities.
Section 301 – Get acquainted with your SERC, LEPC and local fire department and their specific requirements and processes. Consider getting involved with your LEPC and taking a leadership position.
Section 302 – Notify SERC, LEPC and local fire department of the presence of an Extremely Hazardous Substance at any one time it meets the applicable TPQ. Due: Within 60 days after EHS acquisition.
Section 303 – Provide LEPC with pertinent information it needs to create a chemical emergency plan for your facility. When creating a hazardous chemical emergency plan for your facility, consider too the potential effects of a chemical emergency on the greater community and steps you can take to mitigate harm.
Section 304 – Notify SERC, LEPC and local fire departments ASAP in the event of an accidental chemical release that exceeds EPCRA Reporting Quantities. Due: Immediately upon each occurrence. Written follow-up required.
Section 311 – Provide MSDSs to SERC, LEPC, and local fire departments for those chemicals present in facility in reportable quantities. Due: Within 90 days after chemical acquisition or significant change in information.
Section 312 – Submit Tier II Form (or potentially Tier I) to SERC, LEPC and local fire department on an annual basis. Each state has its own procedures and requirements (see below) which may include mandatory electronic filing of some forms. Due: March 1.
Section 313 – Submit Toxics Release Inventory (Form R) to EPA & SERC on an annual basis for inclusion in TRI Database. Due: July 1.
District Of Columbia
Virgin Islands (U.S.)
Key SARA Terms
- CERCLA – Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
- EHS – Extremely Hazardous Substances: Short List of Extremely Hazardous Chemicals
- EPCRA – Emergency Planning and Community Right-To- Know Act (SARA Title III)
- Form R – Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Form
- LEPC – Local Emergency Planning Committee
- List of Lists – EPA’s Aggregated List of Hazardous Chemicals and their TPQ’s and RQ’s
- MSDS – Material Safety Data Sheet
- RQ – Reportable Quantity: Amount of a Substance that Triggers Reporting Obligations for Facilities
- SARA – Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act
- SARA Title III – Section of SARA that Outlines Emergency Planning and Reporting Obligations for Facilities
- SERC – State Emergency Response Commission
- TPQ – Threshold Planning Quantity: Amount of a Substance that Triggers Reporting Obligations for Facilities
- Tier II – Hazardous Chemical Inventory Form
- TRI – Toxics Release Inventory From