Specific requirements within Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), Clean Air Act (CAA), Clean Water Act (CWA), Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-know Act (EPCRA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and Toxic Substance Control (TSCA) contribute to the spill reporting obligations of an academic institution. Some state and local authorities may also require spill reporting. This section provides a general summary of federal spill and release reporting obligations under CERCLA and CWA. Reporting under other statutes, spill prevention, and mitigation are elsewhere in this guide.

Key Concepts

National Response Center (NRC)

The NRC is the federal point-of-contact for reporting spills of oils and other chemicals. Federal laws require immediate reporting to the NRC when the volume of spilled or released material exceeds the reportable quantity. The United States Coast Guard operates the NRC; its telephone number is 1-800-424-8802.

Hazardous Substance

These are any of the 1,500 elements, compounds, radionuclides, and hazardous wastes listed in 40 CFR 302.4.

Extremely Hazardous Substance (EHS)

These are chemicals that pose risks of immediate or acute injury to human life. 40 CFR 355 Appendix A lists these approximately 360 substances in alphabetical order. Some of these are also included on the Hazardous Substance List.

Reportable Quantity (RQ)

This is the quantity of release to the environment that triggers reporting requirements. The Hazardous Substance List and EHS list provide these quantities.

Navigable Waters of the United States

For the purposes of the Clean Water Act, the term "navigable waters" includes

  • all waters used in commerce, including groundwater;
  • all interstate waters including wetlands, mudflats, and sand-flats; and
  • all other waters such as lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and sloughs.

EPA policy states, "The majority of facilities in the U.S. have the potential to discharge to navigable waters." However, the Supreme Court decision in Rapanos v United States (2006) requires the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA to determine whether there is a "significant nexus" between a navigable waterway and an area a spill might affect.

In June of 2007, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released provisional interpretive guidance regarding the "significant nexus" question. According to this guidance, the agencies will assert jurisdiction over traditional navigable waters, wetlands adjacent thereto, and relatively permanent tributaries thereof. The agencies will generally not assert jurisdiction over swales and ditches that lack routine water flow. Finally, the agencies will apply the “significant nexus” requirement and make a case-by-case, fact-specific analysis on impermanent tributaries and other wetlands.

Does this apply to my campus?

Yes. Spill reporting requirements apply to all campuses. They apply when:

  • a release or spill of a hazardous substance to the environment in excess of an RQ occurs on your campus; or
  • your campus spills oil in or near navigable waters of the United States; or
  • there is a transportation accident on your campus involving hazardous materials that results in a death and/or $50,000 worth of property damage; or
  • a pipeline system on your campus fails and releases a highly volatile liquid or carbon dioxide in excess of five barrels, or 210 gallons, per day.

What do I have to do?

Notify the NRC in the event of a reportable spill. The notification must be immediate on confirmation of the spill.

Report any releases of EHS above reportable quantities to State Emergency Response Commission and the authority your Local Emergency Planning Committee has named for response to such releases. Also, contact the local emergency agencies that respond to your campus to determine whether your facility is subject to additional reporting obligations.

Regulations require campuses to prepare for spills and releases, and part of this preparation is maintaining an emergency call list. This list should include the NRC number, the telephone number of state and local agencies that require reports, and the names and numbers of campus personnel who are essential to emergency response. Post the list and keep it current. Maintain a regular schedule for updating the list to ensure it reflects current names and phone numbers.

Colleges and universities may find it prudent to trace drain and sewer flows while planning for a chemical spill. Knowing where releases will flow and whether they will affect drains or waters of the state will help a campus respond to spills.