CERCLA and EPCRA Continuous Release Reporting

Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, Congress established an initial reportable quantity (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 the environment. To date, EPA has established or proposed adjustments to the RQs for all of the roughly 800 Superfund substances.

CERCLA section 103(f)(2) provides a reduced reporting requirement for continuous releases of hazardous substances that exceed the RQ. EPA defines a continuous release as a release of a hazardous substance that is continuous and stable in quantity and rate. EPA interprets "continuous" to mean a release that occurs without interruption or abatement that is routine, anticipated, and intermittent during normal operation or treatment process. "Stable in quantity and rate" means predictable and regular in amount and rate of emission.

A continuous release may be a release that occurs 24 hours a day, such as a radon release from a stock pile. It may also be a release that occurs during a certain process, such as benzene released during the production of polymers, or a release of a hazardous substance from a tank vent each time the tank is filled.

Releases from malfunctions may qualify for reduced reporting as continuous releases, if they:

  • Are normal plant operation or treatment processes;
  • Are stable in quantity and rate; and either
  • Occur without interruption of abatement, or
  • Are routine, anticipated and intermittent.

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) Reportable Quantities

Under the 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.

Reportable Quantities (RQs) for EPCRA Section 302(a)(2) Extremely Hazardous Substances (40 CFR 355)

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Reportable Quantity Adjustments

For purposes of establishing reportable quantity (RQ) adjustments under CERCLA, EPA has adopted the five RQ levels of 1, 10, 100, 1,000, and 5,000 pounds originally established pursuant to Clean Water Act (CWA) section 311. EPA adopted the CWA five-level system primarily because: (1) it had been successfully used for the CWA; (2) the regulated community was already familiar with these five levels; and (3) it provides a relatively high degree of discrimination among the potential hazards posed by different CERCLA hazardous substances. There are also seven RQ levels for radionuclides: 0.001, 0.01, 0.1, 1, 10, 100, and 1,000 Ci.

Reportable Quantities (RQs) for CERCLA Section 102(a) Hazardous Substances PDF (47 pp, 247 K, About PDF) | XML (265 KB)

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.

Statutory RQs are often those set provisionally by Congress (usually at one pound), pending detailed scientific analysis by EPA and adjustment through notice and comment rulemaking. They often do not reflect the relative hazard posed to public health and the environment. By adjusting the RQs, EPA is able to focus its resources on those releases that are more likely to pose potential threats to public health or the environment. This also relieves the regulated community and government emergency response personnel from the burden of making and responding to reports of releases that are less likely to pose such threats.

EPA decided to adjust the statutory RQs of CERCLA hazardous substances that are also CWA hazardous substances to make notification requirements for these substances consistent and less confusing for the regulated community. By making the CWA and CERCLA RQs the same, the Agency sought to avoid confusion regarding reporting requirements.

Reportable Quantity Methodology covers how reportable quantity adjustments are determined.

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Continuous Release Reporting Under CERCLA and EPCRA

Section 103(a) of CERCLA "as amended" and EPA's implementing regulations (40 CFR 302.8 ) require that the person in charge of a vessel or facility immediately notify the National Response Center whenever a reportable quantity (RQ) or more of a CERCLA hazardous substance is released in any 24 hour period, unless the release is federally permitted. The purpose of this requirement is to notify officials of potentially dangerous releases so that they can evaluate the need for a response action.

The continuous release reporting regulation provides a reduced reporting option for facilities that release hazardous substances in a manner that is continuous, and stable in quantity and rate.

To assist you with reporting continuous releases, EPA has developed Continuous Release Reporting (CR-ERNS) Guide that includes forms for written reports. The Guide provides an overview of the information required for the initial and first anniversary follow-up reports to assist your collection of the required information. 

The forms may also be used as your EPCRA followup reports to the State Emergency Response Commission of any state likely to be affected by the release; and the Local Emergency Planning Committee of any area likely to be affected by the release.   

Send your completed forms to the appropriate EPA regional office for the geographical area where the releasing facility or vessel is located.  Your EPA regional office can also provide assistance in understanding and complying with all reporting requirements.

CR-ERNS Regional Contacts (PDF) (2 pp, 30 K, About PDF)

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