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RIGHT TO KNOW Fact Sheet # 2
Obtaining and Using Right to Know
Data Information Collection Process

Source: Environmental Action Foundation
1525 New Hampshire Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20036


This fact sheet will describe how to access and interpret Right to Know data. For background information on the Right to Know Act, see Environmental Action Foundation's "Your Right to Know" fact sheet # 1.

To investigate a facility's use of toxics, citizens may examine files submitted under Section 311 (Material Safety Data Sheets), Section 312 (Tier I/Tier II Inventory forms), and Section 313 (Form R's) of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA or Right to Know law).

The first step in the process of investigating polluters is to contact your State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) and Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). Contact the Right To Know Hotline at : 1-800-535-0202 for the phone number and name of the SERC representative in your state. Your SERC representative can provide you with the name and phone number of your LEPC chairperson.

SERC: State Emergency Response Commission

SERC's are responsible for collecting MSDS's, Tier I/ II forms and Form R's and making them available to the public upon request. MSDS's andTier I/II forms may also be reviewed at your LEPC.

Facilities required to report subject to Section 313 of EPCRA, must submit Form R's for each toxic chemical used, processed, or manufactured in excess of the threshold levels to the SERC. Form R's provide specific information regarding toxic releases into the air, land and water. Before you request copies of Form R's from your SERC, inquire as to whether there is a copying charge since the number of Form R's from one or more facilities may be very expensive if there is a charge.

SERC's may store toxic release data (Form R's) on a computerized database. Contact your SERC and ask about their ability to compile a specific report for you. For example, many SERC's have the capacity to provide you with a condensed report for total emissions in your county. By requesting specific information on the companies you are investigating, the SERC may be able to provide you with an easy to read printout that summarizes the information you need.

LEPC: Local Emergency Planning Committees

The LEPC is responsible for the collection of Material Data Safety Sheets (MSDS's), Tier I/II forms and Emergency Response Plans. Contact your LEPC for access to these documents. Any citizen has the right to examine or receive any information required under EPCRA. A preliminary visit to the LEPC may provide insight into companies that pose potential health and safety threats to your community. MSDS's and Tier I/II forms will describe hazardous substances that can be found at a particular facility. Emergency Response Plans, describing procedures such as containment and evacuation plans, should be developed by and readily available from your LEPC.

Some LEPC's are effective, while others have virtually ignored their emergency planning responsibilities. This can be catastrophic in the event of an accident, such as a spill or explosion, where fire-fighters and emergency personnel have little background information regarding the types of hazards they are facing. If you are having problems obtaining information from your LEPC you should report your difficulties to the SERC. Citizens wishing to become a member of the LEPC can submit a petition to the SERC requesting permission to serve on the LEPC. Direct citizen involvement may help the community better prepare for accidents and make the LECP more efficient at storing and distributing right to know information.

Toxic Release Inventory Forms - Form R's: What to Look For

The EPA requires manufacaturing facilities to submit a Form R for every 'toxic chemical' they use in excess of 10,000 lbs. or manufacture/process in excess of 25,000 lbs. Each Form R is a standard 5 page form that includes chemical specific information describing releases into the environment. The following synopsis of the Form R describes relevant sections of the form and how citizens can use the information.

Page 1: Facility Identification Information

3.1-3.4 Contains facility information such as name, address, contact person and parent company.

3.8 EPA Identification Number (RCRA I.D. #) - If a facility generates hazardous waste it has a RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recover Act) identification number. Reports describing the facility's waste shipments are publicly available from the state office regulating hazardous waste or the EPA.

3.9-3.10 NPDES Permit - If a facility has a permit to discharge pollutants into surface waters, it has a NPDES permit number. The bodies of water receiving pollutants will be noted in Section 3.10. Information regarding pollutants discharged into water bodies is publicly available from the state office regulating discharges to surface waters.

3.11 Underground Injection Well Code- A facility that injects waste into the ground will have an underground injection identification number.

Page 2: Off-site Transfer Information

1. Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) - Describes the names and locations of sewage treatment plants receiving toxic wastes from the facility.

2. Other Off-site Locations - Describes the names and locations of hazardous waste facilities that receive the company's hazardous waste shipments.

Page 3

1. Chemical Identity - Contains the name of the toxic chemical for which the Form R was submitted.

3. Activities Of The Chemical At The Facility - Indicates how the chemical is used at the facility.

4. Maximum Amount Of The Chemical At The Facility - Contains a numerical code that defines a range for the amount of the chemical that was on-site at any one time during the year. (See chart below.)

RANGE CODES chart omitted

5. Releases Of The Chemical To The Environment On-Site

5.1- Descibes amounts of fugitive or non-point air emissions. Fugitive emissions usually indicate a house keeping problem at the facility, as a a certain percentage of a chemical is virtually unaccounted for. Excessive fugitive emissions pose a particular threat to workers who may be exposed to harmful toxic substances.

5.2- Describes amounts of air emissions released from stack or other point sources such as air vents.

5.3- Describes amounts released to surface waters. This information should correspond with the facility's NPDES water permit. For example, if a Form R reveals water discharges of a chemical not authorized to be released by the water permit, it is likely that the facility is in violation of that permit.

5.5- Describes amounts released to the land on-site (that is, at the facility)

Pages 4-5

Pages 4 and 5 contain limited information regarding waste treatment methods and pollution prevention. In addition, these pages contain supplemental information regarding releases into surface waters, sewage treatment plants and other off-site locations. The supplemental information should be checked to ensure that all releases reported are examined. Pursuant to the 1990 Pollution Prevention Act, facilities required to submit Form R's must file new pollution prevention forms by July 1, 1992. The new forms should be more useful than the current pollution prevention data contained on Form R's.

Tier I/Tier II Information

If a company is required to submit MSDS's under Section 311, it is also required to file Tier I or Tier II information. These are standard EPA forms that contain information pertaining to hazardous chemicals stored on-site. Tier II information is much more useful than Tier I forms since it contains chemical specific information in addition to the information found on Tier I Forms. If a company has submitted Tier I forms under Section 312, you may write a letter to the SERC requesting Tier II information from a company.

Tier I Forms

Tier I information is helpful to firefighters and emergency planners in that it discloses estimated quantities, location and characteristics of hazardous materials present. Tier I forms do not require the disclosure of specific chemicals stored on- site, only aggregate chemical categories and their physical hazard characteristics such as corrosivity or flammablity.

Tier II Forms

Tier II Forms contain comprehensive information regarding specific chemicals on-site, the estimated quantities, general location at the facility, and manner of storage.

Specific Things To Look For On A Tier II Form:

1. Chemical Description: Contains the specific name of an on-site chemical.

2. Physical and Health Hazards: Contain categories that define the chemical's hazards. This information is not comprehensive and we recommend that you look at the MSDS for the chemical properties if you wish to get a detailed description of the physical properties and potential health and safety risks associated with a particular chemical.

3. Inventory: Contains range estimates of the specific quantities of chemicals on-site. Numerical codes are used to indicate the estimated quantity of chemicals stored. (See page 3 for the range codes.)

Material Safety Data Sheets

Unlike Tier I/II forms and Form R's, there is no standard MSDS form so information contained on MSDS's may vary between facilities. MSDS's contain information regarding chemicals and their health hazards. Specifically, you should look for the chemical name or trade name of the product and the adverse health effects and hazard potential. MSDS's are only required for hazardous substances stord at the facility in excess of 10,000 lbs. (For chemicals listed as Extremely Hazardous Substances - the reporting threshold is 500 pounds.) MSDS's do not reveal how much of a chemical is used at the site, but they can give you a general idea of chemicals that are present and may pose a significant health and safety threat to your community.

Other Right to Know Fact Sheets Available:

For more information regarding the Right to Know Law and/or additional Fact Sheets contact:

Environmental Action Foundation
1525 New Hampshire Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 745-4870

Source: RTK Net, Washington, DC

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