Please note: This summary is provided to help you understand the regulations. Consult the references provided for links to the full text of the regulations.
To report an oil or chemical spill, call the
National Response Center at 800-424-8802
This section provides information on reporting spills and releases of oil and hazardous substances. It covers both Federal and state requirements.
Who is covered by the regulations?
Any person, company or organization responsible for a release or spill.
What is the purpose of the regulations?
To assure that any oil or hazardous substance spill is properly addressed in a manner that prevents further damage to the environment and human health.
Any person or organization responsible for a release or spill is required to notify the federal National Response Center (NRC) (call 800-424-8802) when the amount reaches a federally-determined limit, as described below. Separate federal reporting requirements exist for:
These requirements are discussed below.
Oil Spills. EPA has established requirements to report spills to navigable waters or adjoining shorelines. EPA has determined that discharges of oil in quantities that may be harmful to public health or the environment include those that:
- Violate applicable water quality standards;
- Cause a film or "sheen" upon, or discoloration of the surface of the water or adjoining shorelines; or
- Cause a sludge or emulsion to be deposited beneath the surface of the water or upon adjoining shorelines.
Any person in charge of vessels or facilities that discharge oil in such quantities is required to report the spill to the federal government. EPA provides several exemptions from the oil spill reporting requirements.
The requirement for reporting oil spills stems from the Discharge of Oil Regulation, known as the "sheen rule." Under this regulation, oil spill reporting does not depend on the specific amount of oil spilled, but on the presence of a visible sheen created by the spilled oil. Reporting an oil discharges may also be required under the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule.
Use this calculator to look up the Reportable Quantity (RQ) of a hazardous substance or to evaluate whether a release to the environment must be reported to the National Response Center.
Hazardous Substances. For releases of hazardous substances, the federal government has established Superfund Reportable Quantities (RQs). If a hazardous substance is released to the environment in an amount that equals or exceeds its RQ, the release must be reported to federal authorities, unless certain reporting exemptions for hazardous substance releases also apply.
Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, the federal government has designated several hundred substances as "extremely hazardous substances" based on their acute lethal toxicity. Under the law, releases of these extremely hazardous substances trigger reporting requirements to state and local authorities, as well as the federal authorities. The owner or operator of a facility that releases an extremely hazardous substance in an amount greater than its established RQ must follow requirements on how to report to the appropriate authorities (in many cases, the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) and the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC)) for the location where the incident occurs.
Transportation Spills. The Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR Parts 171-180) require that certain types of incidents be reported to the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA), a unit of US DOT:
- 49 CFR 171.15 of the HMR requires an immediate telephonic report (within 12 hours) of certain types of hazardous materials incidents and a follow-up written report (DOT Form F 5800.1). These incidents include: death, injury, public evacuation and similar catastrophes (see 49 CFR 171.15(b) for full list).
- 49 CFR 171.16 requires a written report for most other types of hazardous materials incidents, not identified above, within 30 days using DOT Form F 5800.1.
Any person in possession of a hazardous material during transportation, including loading, unloading and storage incidental to transportation, must report to the Department of Transportation (DOT) if certain conditions are met. This means that when the conditions apply for completing the report, the entity having physical control of the shipment is responsible for filling out and filing DOT Form F 5800.1.
When material is being transferred between carriers, it may not be clear who is in "physical control" of the material when a reportable spill occurs. The DOT document Guide for Preparing Hazardous Materials Incidents Reports indicates that whenever material is being transferred from one carrier to another, the upstream carrier remains responsible until the material is fully in the possession of the downstream carrier, no matter who is unloading the material. But after the material has been delivered to the final intended consignee and the goods are no longer in transit, the final consignee becomes responsible for filing the report for spills that occur during unloading (as well as thereafter). In case of ambiguity about who is responsible, the DOT Incident Reporting instruction page lists a contact number 1-800-467-4922 for additional guidance. See the DOT Guide for additional details and guidance on completing Form F 5800.1.
Spill reporting requirements at the state level are summarized below, based on information from state agencies' websites. Always check with your state to confirm reporting requirements.
Report Spills and Environmental Violations.