NC Hazardous Chemicals Right to Know Act
This section has been reviewed and updated as needed: April 2014
The use and storage of hazardous chemicals potentially pose threats to the environment, health and safety of employees and citizens at large as evidenced by events such as the methyl isocyanate gas release in Bhopal, India. The threat is especially great for fire and emergency response workers and potentially severe for employees and citizens in the vicinity of bulk storage facilities.
In response to the perceived danger, the NC General Assembly passed the Hazardous Chemicals Right to Know Act, which became effective May 25, 1986. Sponsors of the Act seek to inform firefighters and citizens of potential hazards, thereby assuring a better-planned response in the event of an accident. An informed citizenry is also better able to assess the relative safety or danger of workplaces in their neighborhoods.
The purposes of the Act are to ensure that fire chiefs have access to all information about hazardous chemicals necessary for emergency responses and to ensure that citizens have access to sufficient information about hazardous chemicals for them to assess any hazards posed by local workplaces.
The requirements of the Hazardous Chemicals Right-to-Know Act apply to all employers and any subdivision thereof that have hazardous chemicals in amounts as noted under Requirements 1 below.
- All employers who use or store 55 gallons or 500 pounds or more of any single hazardous chemical as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), must prepare a Hazardous Substance List which contains the chemical or common names, the quantity of each chemical (within specified ranges), the areas in which the chemicals are stored, and to what extent the chemicals may be stored at altered temperature or pressure. The Hazardous Substance List shall be updated quarterly if necessary, but not less often than annually.
Class Gallons Pounds A Less than 55 Less than 500 B 55 – 550 500 – 5,000 C 550 – 5,500 5,000 – 50,000 D 5,500 plus 50,000 plus
- UNC must maintain safety data sheets (SDSs) on hazardous chemicals. Chemical manufacturers and distributors must provide SDSs to all purchasers of their products. If an SDS is not provided by the manufacturer or distributor and the Department of Environment, Health and Safety does not have it, the Department of Environment, Health and Safety can either assist in locating the SDS online or make a written request for one within 30 days of receipt of the request from the department purchasing the chemical. If the SDS is not received within 30 days after written request, the Commissioner of Labor will be noted of the failure by the manufacturer or distributor to provide the SDS.
- All containers (except pipelines) of hazardous substances must be clearly marked as hazardous, and labels on containers shall not be removed or defaced.
- Employers with 55 gallons or 500 pounds or more of any single hazardous substance must provide to their fire chief a copy of the Hazardous Substance List and the name and telephone number of someone to contact in the event of an emergency. The Hazardous Substance List is maintained by the Department of Environment, Health and Safety.
- The fire chief is given authority to conduct inspections of workplaces to ensure the accuracy of the Hazardous Substance List and to pre-plan emergency response activities.
- Employers shall provide to the Fire Chief, upon written request of the Fire Chief, a copy of the SDS for any chemical on the Hazardous Substance List.
- UNC has prepared an emergency response plan and submitted it to the fire chief.
- The fire chief may share information with other State or local government officials responsible for pre-planning emergency response, police, medical, or fire activities. Distribution of any information (trade secrets) not otherwise available to the public is punishable as a misdemeanor.
- Any person in North Carolina may request in writing from an employer the names of chemicals on the hazardous substance list, the quantity (within ranges), and an SDS for each chemical. The request must include the citizen’s name, address, the reason for the request, the name and address of any organization on whose behalf the request is being made, and, at the option of the employer, a statement that the information will be used only for the purpose stated. The employer shall provide the information within 10 days. A fee not to exceed the cost of reproducing the materials may be charged.
- Any complaints regarding violations of the Act are to be investigated by the Commissioner of Labor. Civil penalties of up to $1,000 per violation per day may be assessed by the Commissioner, if compliance is not achieved in 14 days.
- Employers may withhold trade secret information from information otherwise released. Anyone may challenge such a trade secret claim, in which case the Commissioner of Labor shall determine whether or not the claim is valid and if so, whether or not sufficient hazard information has been released to enable the fire chief to carry out his responsibilities. Unauthorized disclosure of trade secret information is a Class I felony with a maximum punishment of up to 3 years or a fine or both.
- In medical emergency and non-emergency situations, trade secret data must be released to health professionals with certain assurances provided to employers regarding confidentiality.
- Localities are prohibited from enforcing local ordinances requiring disclosure of information regarding the use or storage of hazardous chemicals.
- The Act does not apply to the following: chemicals while being transported in interstate commerce; retail establishments except for processing and repair areas; food or drugs; farms with 10 or fewer employees; distilled spirits, tobacco and untreated wood products; and medicines used directly in patient care in health care facilities.
- The Act also provides a limited exemption for laboratories under the direct supervision of a technically qualified individual, if the laboratory is not used primarily to produce hazardous chemicals in bulk for commercial purpose. The limited exemption does not include number 2 and 3 of this requirement.