Spill Response for Laboratory Personnel

In an emergency, call 3-6222 For assistance from EHS, call 6-6485

There are various actions that laboratory personnel can take in the event of a chemical spill. For many spills the clean-up action can be taken by the laboratory worker and need not involve outside personnel. The EHS spill response team can manage spills that are beyond the ability of the laboratory to handle. Still other spill responses may be too large for EHS to handle and the Salisbury Fire Department (Hazmat Response Team) or an outside contractor must be called in.

The essential question that must be asked by laboratory personnel is, "Knowing the chemical hazards, location and quantity, do I have the capability to respond to the spill safely?" The safety of everyone in the laboratory and everyone else in the building is of paramount importance. If the spill could potentially harm someone, isolate the area where the spill occurred and call EHS (3-6485) to report the spill (after business hours call the University Police at 3-6222 and they will notify EHS). EHS will determine whether the magnitude of the spill is within the capability of the EHS spill response team, SFD, or the outside contractor.

In order to place your laboratory in a position to be able to handle small spills, a level of preplanning must occur. Laboratories must have a minimum amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) and appropriate clean-up materials present prior to an incident. Before responding to a spill the minimum PPE needed includes:

  • Splash Goggles
  • Lab Coat with sleeves rolled down
  • Nitrile or neoprene gloves-in good condition

The supplies needed to clean up a spill will depend on the quantity and type of chemical that is spilled. A recommended list of supplies is:

  • Polypropylene pads
  • Heavy duty trash bags
  • Hazardous waste labels
  • A gallon plastic container with lid
  • Dust pan and brush
  • Laboratory tongs
  • Clay absorbent

Clean-up Procedures

The responsibility of the first responder is to limit access to the spill so that unsuspecting persons do not inadvertently encounter spilled material and either contaminate themselves or spread the spilled material beyond the immediate spill area.

The second responsibility is to don the appropriate personal protective equipment and control further release and spread of material, if possible. This step often involves righting containers and placing absorbent or other diking material around the spill to prevent the spread of the spill beyond the containment area.

Once the spill has been contained, the responder should absorb any free liquid. The appropriate absorbent will vary with the different chemicals. Spills of acids and bases can be easily absorbed into polypropylene pads. If Polypropylene pads are not available, a safe way to absorb most any liquid is by using a clay absorbent similar to kitty litter. The clay is a safe, cheap and efficient absorbent for chemical spills. Once all of the free liquids are absorbed, place all of the absorbents and other contaminated spill clean-up materials into a heavy duty trash bag or plastic container.

Many spills involve broken glass. The responder must be careful not to get cut by broken glass during the clean-up process. Use tongs to pick-up the broken glass.

Once the spill is cleaned up it is necessary to neutralize any remaining residues and decontaminate the area. This can be accomplished by using an acid or base neutralizer for corrosive chemicals or using warm, soapy water for other chemicals. NOTE: Water should never be used for chemicals that are water reactive.

The final step is to inspect the area for spill residue, hidden contamination, or other unsafe conditions. Once you are certain that none of these exist, place the entire spill clean-up residue and other contaminated materials into a trash bag or plastic container that can be sealed shut. Label the container as hazardous waste and specify the contents. Then request that the materials be removed from you laboratory as hazardous waste.

Lastly, restock your spill supplies!