Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

You are here: Home » Environmental Health & Safety » Emergency Response Procedures » Chemical Spill Emergency Response
Document Actions

Chemical Spill Emergency Response

Accidental Release of or Spill of Regulated Chemicals or Chemical Waste

Despite the best efforts of researchers to practice safe science in the laboratory, accidents resulting in the release of chemicals will occur. The following procedures should be used as a guide to help laboratory personnel design an effective spill control plan for their laboratory and where to get assistance.

MAJOR SPILL RESPONSE PROCEDURES:

In general, a major spill involves the release of a type or quantity of a chemical that poses an immediate risk to health, or involves an uncontrolled fire or explosion. In this case:

  1. Evacuate the building by activating the nearest fire alarm.
  2. Call your campus Public Safety and give details of the accident including location, types of hazardous materials involved, and whether there is personal injury.
  3. If the accident involves personal injury or chemical contamination and you can safely assist the injured person(s):
    • Move the victim from the immediate area of fire, explosion, or spill (if this can be done without further injury to the victim or you).
    • Locate nearest emergency eyewash or safety shower. Remove any contaminated clothing from the victim and flush all areas of the body contacted by chemicals with copious amounts of water for 15 minutes.
    • Administer first aid as appropriate and seek medical attention.

MINOR SPILL RESPONSE PROCEDURES:

In the event of a spill involving the release of a type or quantity of a chemical which does not pose an immediate risk to health and does not involve chemical contamination to the body:

  1. Notify lab personnel and neighbors of the accident.
  2. Isolate the area.
  3. Close lab doors and evacuate the immediate area if necessary.
  4. Remove ignition sources and unplug nearby electrical equipment.
  5. Establish exhaust ventilation. Vent vapors to outside of building only (open windows and turn on fume hoods).
  6. Locate spill kit.
  7. Don appropriate personal protective equipment (goggles, face shield, impervious gloves, lab coat, apron, etc.).
    Note: All lab personnel must be properly fit tested before using a respirator. Contact EHS at (212) 772-4462 for more information.
  8. Confine and contain the spill. Cover with appropriate absorbent material. Acid and base spills should be neutralized prior to cleanup.
  9. Sweep solid material into a plastic dustpan and place in a sealed 5-gallon container.
  10. Wet mop spill area. Be sure to decontaminate broom, dustpan, etc.
  11. Put all contaminated items (gloves, clothing, etc.) into a sealed 5-gallon container or plastic bag. Bring all waste to the next Waste Open House or call EHS if a special pickup is necessary. You should always call EHS at if the spill is:
    • Greater than 1 gallon
    • Very toxic
    • Poses a fire hazard
    • If you need assistance

SPILLS REQUIRING SPECIAL PROCEDURES:

Acid Chlorides:

  • Use Oil-Dri, Zorb-All, or dry sand.
  • Avoid water and avoid sodium bicarbonate.

Alkali Metals (lithium, sodium, magnesium, potassium):

  • Smother with dry sand or cover with contents from a Class “D” fire extinguisher.
  • Use of a Class “D” fire extinguisher is the preferred extinguishing method.
  • Avoid contact with water.

White or Yellow Phosphorus:

  • Blanket with wet sand or wet absorbent.

Bromine:

  • Neutralize spill with a 5% solution of sodium thiosulfate.
  • Absorb with inert absorbent material.

Hydrofluoric Acid:

  • Treat affected person immediately (See special emergency treatment below).
  • Neutralize with soda ash or lime (or absorb spill with special HF spill pillow).
  • Absorb with inert absorbent material.
  • Transfer waste to a polyethylene container.

Mercury:

  • Use aspirator bulb or suction device to collect mercury beads (do not use a vacuum cleaner).
  • Mop up mercury with mercury decontaminating powder and remove all traces of mercury.
  • Label waste with a "Hazardous Waste" sticker and make arrangements for the disposal of the waste.

HYDROFLUIRIC ACID CONTAMINATION EMERGENCY TREATMENT PROCEDURES:

Skin Contact:

  1. Immediately flush with copious amounts of water under an emergency shower.
  2. Remove all clothing while under the shower. Flush skin for 5 minutes.
  3. Apply calcium gluconate gel (2.5%) while wearing clean impervious gloves. (If calcium gluconate gel is not available continue to flush skin until medical personnel arrive.)
  4. Get medical attention immediately.

Eye Contact:

  1. Immediately flush eyes with water under an eyewash for 15 minutes.
  2. Get medical attention immediately.

Inhalation:

  1. Remove victim to fresh air.
  2. Get medical attention immediately.
  3. Inform medical personnel that injury involves hydrofluoric acid and give them a copy of the material safety data sheet.

CHEMICAL SPILL KIT CONTENTS:

Every laboratory that uses chemicals must have a spill control kit. An effective spill kit must be properly stocked, strategically located and its location known to all lab personnel. In addition, it should be checked periodically, and restored after each use.

The following is a list of recommended items that should be contained in a chemical spill kit. However, it is important that spill kits be tailored to meet the specific spill control needs of each laboratory. 

  1. Absorbents: Universal Spill Absorbent or 1:1:1 mixture of kitty litter, sodium bicarbonate, and sand. This all purpose absorbent is good for most chemical spills including solvents, acids (not good for hydrofluoric acid) and bases.
  2. Acid Spill Neutralizer: sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate or calcium carbonate.
  3. Alkali (Base) Neutralizer: sodium bisulfate.
  4. Solvents/Organic Liquid Absorbent: Inert absorbents such as vermiculite, clay, sand, Flor-Dri and Oil-Dri.
  5. Bromine Neutralizer: 5% solution of sodium thiosulfate and inert absorbent.
  6. Hydrofluoric Acid Neutralizer: HF compatible spill pillow or neutralize with lime and transfer to a polyethylene container.
  7. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including: goggles and face shield, heavy neoprene gloves, disposable lab coat and corrosive apron, plastic vinyl booties, and only if needed, appropriate respiratory protection. Only properly fit tested personnel can use a respirator.
  8. Clean-Up Material including: plastic dust pan and scoop, plastic bags (30 Gallon, 3 mil thickness) for contaminated PPE, a plastic bucket (5 gallon polyethylene) with lid for spill and absorbent residues.
  9. Other specialized items:
      • Hydrofluoric acid antidote gel like calcium gluconate
      • Mercury Spill Kit: Aspirator Bulb and Mercury Decontaminating Powder
      • Alkali Metals: Dry sand or a Class “D” Fire Extinguisher
      • Acid Chlorides: Oil Dri, Zorb-All, or dry sand