Establishment and Introduction
The 1984 toxic gas disaster in Bhopal, India focused worldwide attention on the possibility that accidents at facilities handling hazardous chemicals could harm neighboring communities. In the United States, federal, state, and local governments responded with laws to improve accident prevention and emergency response planning activities by chemical-handling facilities and local governments. These laws also increase public access to information ("Right-to-Know") about the storage and use of hazardous chemicals.
The Jennings County Local Emergency Planning Committee is a State entity created pursuant to SARA Title III (Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act), known as the "Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986" (EPCRA).
The legislative requirement of the Committee is to implement SARA Title III in Indiana, but the broader and more comprehensive purpose is to enhance public health,
safety, and environmental protection in Jennings County.
The mission of the Local Emergency Planning Committee is to:
- Develop a comprehensive hazardous materials emergency response plan for our community. To be effective, planning must be an ongoing activity.
- Receive and record information about chemical releases
- Collect, manage, and provide public access to information on hazardous chemicals in our area.
- Educate the public about the risks from accidental and routine releases of chemicals and work with facilities to minimize the risks.
Title III introduced a new relationship among governments at all levels, the private sector, public organizations, and the general public. Each group has a different, but equally important role in making emergency planning and community Right-to-Know provisions of the law which will be of unlimited value to the community.
At the very heart of this effort to ensure public safety lies a responsibility which everyone shares...establishing and maintaining two-way communication. In other words, our state and its counties need support to implement the law; industry needs to understand how and when to comply; the public needs to be aware of the kinds of information available and what it might mean to them.
Within each area is a role to be played. The federal role is to provide national leadership, guidance, technical assistance, access to data about chemical releases, and
training through the states. Indiana, through the State Emergency Response Commission
(SERC), provides leadership to ensure that an emergency planning and implementation
structure is developed and to provide training and technical assistance to its
communities. The local role is the work our LEPC does in actually carrying out emergency
planning, Community Right-to-Know, and response function. Industry complies with Title III reporting requirements and can get involved by increasing their awareness and understanding of chemical risks and supporting actions to increase public safety and
protection of chemical risks and protection of the environment.
The integration of these roles is tested during hazardous materials emergency response training exercises. Safety and efficiency is the desired process and improved communication and coordination will be the desired outcome. The desired overall result will be improved preparedness and a potentially safer community.
Jennings County is located in southeastern Indiana. According to Stats Indiana, in 2005 there were 28,427 people in Jennings County. In 2000, there were 10,134 households in the county. The major employers by industry sector in the county are services, retail trade, manufacturing, government, and construction. The county has a land area of 377.2 square miles. The major transportation routes through Jennings County: U.S. 50 and State Roads 3 & 7.
From the EPA's document holding entitled, "Chemicals in Your Community: A Guide to the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act:"
Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) are appointed by the State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs). LEPCs must consist of representatives of all of the following groups and organizations:
- Elected and local officials
- Law enforcement
- Emergency management
- Emergency medical services
- Local environmental and transportation agencies
- Broadcast and print media
- Community groups
- Representatives of facilities subject to the emergency planning and community right-to-know requirements
The LEPCs initial task is to develop an emergency plan to prepare for and respond to chemical emergencies. EPA's list of extremely hazardous substances may provide a focus for setting priorities in the planning effort. When the plan is completed, it must be reviewed annually, tested, and updated. Because the LEPC's members represent the community, they should be familiar with factors that affect public safety, the environment, and the economy of the community. That expertise will be essential as the LEPC develops a plan tailored to the needs of its planning district.
An emergency plan must include the identity and location of hazardous materials, procedures for immediate response to a chemical accident; ways to notify the public about actions they must take; names of coordinators at plants; and schedules and plans for testing the plan. Once the plan is written, the SERC must review it. The LEPC must publicize the plan through the public meetings or newspaper announcements, get public
comments, and periodically test the plan by conducting emergency drills. The LEPC must
also update the plan at least annually and let the public know of its activities.
The LEPC has other responsibilities besides developing an emergency response plan. It receives emergency releases and hazardous chemical inventory information submitted by local facilities, and must make this information available to the public upon request. It must establish and publicize procedures for handling these requests.
LEPCs have the authority to request additional information from facilities for their own planning purposes or on behalf of others. LEPCs may want to visit facilities in the community to find out what they are doing to reduce hazards, prepare for accidents, and reduce hazardous inventories and releases. LEPCs can take civil actions against facilities if they fail to provide the information required under the Act.
In addition to its formal responsibilities, the LEPC serves as a focal point in the
community for information and discussions about hazardous substances, emergency planning,
and health and environmental risks. Citizens will expect the LEPC to reply to questions
about chemical hazards and risk management actions. It can also anticipate questions about the extent and the health and environmental effects of routine toxic chemical releases. Even though this information is not required by the law to be sent to LEPCs, EPA and the states are working together to ensure this information is available at the local level. Many companies are voluntarily providing local committees and other citizens with this information.
An LEPC can most effectively carry out its responsibilities as a community forum by
taking steps to educate the public about chemical risks, and working with facilities to
minimize those risks. The value of the information provided by the Emergency Planning and
Community Right-to-Know Act will be limited unless citizens are given the means to
understand the information and it implications. The LEPC's ability to improve the safety
and health of its community will be greatly enhanced by the support of an informed and