Environmental Compliance for Agricultural Producers (Part 3)

Agricultural producers face many obstacles that must be managed cost-effectively. Previously, we discussed ways in which environmental consultants can assist with their water management and fuel tanks compliance programs. This article focuses on chemicals that may have a hazardous impact if exposure is encountered. From the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s website: “The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986 was created to help communities plan for chemical emergencies. It also requires industry to report on the storage, use and releases of hazardous substances to federal, state, and local governments. EPCRA requires state and local governments, and Indian tribes to use this information to prepare for and protect their communities from potential risks.”
In 1984, more than 2,000 people were either killed or severely injured in Bhopal, India, when methylisocyanate was accidentally released. The United States Congress passed legislation in 1986 to reduce the likelihood of such a disaster in the United States. The Community Right-to-Know provisions help increase the public’s knowledge and access to information on chemicals at individual facilities, their uses, and releases into the environment. States and communities, working with facilities, can use the information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment. (https://www.epa.gov/epcra/what-epcra)
There are a number of key provisions that need to be followed by all facilities that store hazardous substances above a certain threshold. One of those is what is known as the “Tier II” report, in which facilities need to submit an inventory of chemicals stored at the facility and their quantities. This includes a number of substances, such as diesel fuel, propane, and pesticides, all of which are used by farmers.
So what if a farmer doesn’t report everything? Consider this: a chemical storage area is engulfed in flames too large for the farm personnel to handle, so emergency responders arrive at the farm. There are chemicals in the building that may not react well with the fire-fighting materials used, and if the wrong material is used to attempt to put the flames out, additional property damage or personnel injury could occur. If, during the post-incident investigation, the facility was found to have failed to notify the appropriate state officials per EPCRA Section 304, Section 325(b) of EPCRA establishes criminal penalties, per offense, of up to $25,000 and prison sentences of up to two years (or up to $50,000 and five years for second and subsequent convictions) for violations. EPCRA section 325 also authorizes administrative penalties enforced through civil proceedings that could end up being $25,000 per violation or $25,000 per day of a continuing violation (if found to be consequential enough).
The onus of reporting lands squarely on the facility. Although farmers may know what they use and how it is used and when, they may not be familiar with the reporting requirements associated with using those compounds on their farms. As a way to manage risk, an environmental consultant such as ERMI would be able to guide the producer through the EPCRA Tier II reporting processes to help reduce the danger of potential injury to responding personnel.