As an industrialized nation, the United States produces, transports, stores, uses, and disposes of millions of tons of hazardous substances per day. Many of us live and work among a wide variety of hazardous substances, which can be found on trucks, trains, and ships that transport hazardous substances; in industrial production, storage, and use; and in active and abandoned hazardous waste sites. Hazardous substances also are found in many consumer products and services that we use everyday. Under normal conditions, these substances are controlled and pose no threat to human life and the environment. But when they enter the environment through an accidental release, they can contaminate the land we use, the water we drink, and the air we breathe, with potentially disastrous results.
Hazardous substances take many forms, and are defined under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Today, a great deal is known about hazardous substances and their effects; this information helps responders act quickly and safely to reduce the risks from emergency situations.
The Emergency Response Program and its Partners: EPA's Emergency Response program provides quick response to the release, or threatened release, of hazardous substances wherever and whenever they occur. It complements the Superfund program and acts as a major part of a national infrastructure designed to protect human health and the environment from the threats posed by hazardous substances.
There are three major areas under which the program acts:
Planning for potential emergencies is essential to preventing the worst effects of hazardous substance releases; the Emergency Response program coordinates contingency planning on the national level.
Rapid and safe response to incidents with whatever resources are required to eliminate immediate dangers to the public and the environment; to minimize damage in an emergency, safe response procedures must be followed, and the techniques used must be appropriate to the details of the emergency.
Community involvement can be used to inform the public about a release, response activities, and the substances involved. EPA also recognizes the value of a well-informed community, and works hard to educate citizens about what to do in the event of a hazardous substance release. EPA's Emergency Response program works hard to foster good community relations and maintain communication in the event of an emergency.
The program is a vital part in the nation's efforts to reduce and eliminate the threats from hazardous substances releases. EPA responses to hazardous substance emergencies are implemented through its 10 Regions, and are characterized by a system that includes federal, state, and local cooperation, the National Response System, and between government and industry. Due to the pervasiveness of hazardous substances in our society, however, the broad range of emergencies to which EPA must respond can never be completely eliminated. The Emergency Response program is prepared to use its response authorities to their fullest extent, today and in the future, to protect the public and the environment from immediate threats posed by hazardous substances. The program has a history of significant accomplishments in the face of challenging response conditions.