Chemical Emergencies

Preparedness for and Response to Accidental Chemical Air Releases Gao ID: RCED-86-117BR June 3, 1986

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the efforts of federal, state, and local governments and the chemical industry to prepare for and respond to chemical plant emergencies, focusing on actions taken since the December 1984 chemical accident at Bhopal, India.

GAO found that: (1) there is no federal law requiring communities with chemical plants to develop emergency response plans; (2) under current law, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carries out a lead role in chemical emergency preparedness activities; (3) EPA chairs a multiagency National Response Team (NRT) that coordinates emergency planning and information dissemination, provides technical assistance to state and local governments, and attempts to identify high-risk geographic areas; and (4) EPA administers the Chemical Emergency Response program, which is developing a list of hazardous chemicals and associated guidance, disseminating it to state and local governments, providing technical training and assistance, and monitoring and revising the list, as necessary. GAO also found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency: (1) is a member of NRT; and (2) has developed guidance documents to help state and local governments develop emergency operations plans. In addition, GAO found that: (1) the Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration all play important roles in NRT; (2) the three states it reviewed all have emergency response plans and require chemical manufacturers to publicize information regarding potential hazards of their operations; and (3) chemical industry associations have also implemented training, information, and emergency response programs, including the Community Awareness and Response program, which is intended to help communities prepare for chemical accidents.

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