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Environmental Enforcement: EPA Warns of Hazardous Material Releases During Hurricane Season

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a Hazardous Weather Release Prevention and Reporting alert to remind facility operators of their obligation to operate facilities safely and report chemical releases in a timely manner during dangerous weather.

This alert is designed to increase awareness about certain regulations that require minimization of chemical releases during process shutdown operations. It specifies operational release minimization requirements and clarifies reporting requirements and reporting exemptions.

Unlike some natural disasters, such as the recent spate of tornadoes across the U.S., the EPA says the onset of a hurricane is predictable and allows for early preparations to lessen its effect on a facility. Before hurricane-force winds and associated storm surge flooding damage industrial processes, the alert recommends that operators take preventive action by safely shutting down processes, or otherwise operate safely under emergency procedures.

The Clean Air Act establishes that owners/operators have a general duty to prevent accidental releases of certain listed substances and other extremely hazardous substances and to minimize the consequences of accidental releases which do occur, even in the event of hurricanes or other natural disasters. This duty involves assessing the potential hazards of such releases, designing and maintaining a safe facility, and taking such steps as are necessary to prevent accidental releases and minimize their consequences, the EPA alert says.

In the event of a release, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, requires facilities to immediately notify the National Response Center of any release of a hazardous substance in an amount equal to or greater than the reportable quantity for that substance.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act also requires owners/operators to immediately notify both their respective State Emergency Response Commissions and Local Emergency Planning Committees whenever their facility has released an reportable quantity of a CERCLA hazardous substance or an extremely hazardous substance as defined by the Emergency Planning Act.

The alert and requirements are available here.

In the event of a hazardous weather incident, the EPA has urged people to visit this web page for updated emergency information.

Picture credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

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