Section 8: Chemical Spills

General information about cleaning up chemical spills is available in the Emergency - Spills section of the EHS web page. This section contains information regarding:

Pre-planning is essential. Before working with a chemical, the laboratory worker should know how to proceed with spill cleanup and should ensure that there are adequate spill control materials available. For more information, see related links.

Preventing Spills

Most spills are preventable. The following are some tips that could help to prevent or minimize the magnitude of a spill:

  • Place chemical containers being used in a hood or lab bench area that reduces the possibility of accidentally knocking over a container.
  • Keep all unused reagents in their appropriate storage area and keep your work area clean of needles equipment and clutter.
  • Plan your movements. Look where you are reaching to ensure you will not cause a spill.
  • Avoid transporting chemicals from the stockroom during periods of high traffic in the hallways such as between classes.
  • Transport chemical containers in a chemical carrier or cart.
  • Place absorbent plastic backed liners on benchtops or in fume hoods where spills can be anticipated. For volumes of liquid larger than what can be absorbed by liners, use trays.

Spill Response and Clean-up Procedures

In the event of a chemical spill, the individual(s) who caused the spill is responsible for prompt and proper clean-up. It is also their responsibility to have spill control and personal protective equipment appropriate for the chemicals being handled readily available. See Developing a Spill Response Plan for more information.

The following are general guidelines to be followed for a chemical spill. More detailed procedures may be available in your Departmental Chemical Hygiene Plan or Spill Response Plan.

  1. Immediately alert area occupants and supervisor, and evacuate the area, if necessary.
  2. If there is a fire or medical attention is needed, contact the Baylor Police Department at extension 2222
  3. Attend to any people who may be contaminated. Contaminated clothing must be removed immediately and the skin flushed with water for no less than fifteen minutes. Clothing must be laundered before reuse.
  4. If a volatile, flammable material is spilled, immediately warn everyone, control sources of ignition and ventilate the area.
  5. Don personal protective equipment, as appropriate to the hazards. Refer to the Material Safety Data Sheet or other references for information.
  6. Consider the need for respiratory protection. The use of a respirator or self-contained breathing apparatus requires specialized training and medical surveillance. Never enter a contaminated atmosphere without protection or use a respirator without training. If respiratory protection is needed and no trained personnel are available, call Baylor Police at extension 2222. If respiratory protection is used, be sure there is another person outside the spill area in communication, in case of an emergency. If no one is available, contact Public Safety.
  7. Using the chart below, determine the extent and type of spill. If the spill is large, if there has been a release to the environment or if there is no one knowledgeable about spill clean-up available, contact Baylor Police at extension 2222.
  8. Category
    Treatment Materials
    Minor up to 300cc chemical treatment or absorption Neutralization or absorption spill kit
    Medium 300 cc - 5 liters absorption absorption spill kit
    Large more than 5 liters call public safety outside help

    • Minor and medium Chemical Spills
      • Alert people in the immediate area of spill.
      • Avoid breathing vapors from spill.
      • Turn off ignition and heat sources if spilled material is flammable.
      • Put on appropriate protective equipment, such as safety goggles, suitable gloves, and long sleeved lab coat.
      • Confine spill to small area.
      • Use appropriate kit to neutralize and absorb organic acids and bases.
      • Use appropriate kit or spill pads.
      • Collect residue, place in appropriate container and dispose as chemical waste (call EDHS at 710-2900 for emergency waste pickup
      • Clean spill area with water.

    • Major Chemical Spills
      • Alert people in the area to evacuate.
      • Turn off ignition and heat sources if spilled material is flammable.
      • Initiate fire alarm or call 2222.
      • Attend to injured or contaminated persons and remove them from exposure.
      • Have person knowledgeable of area assist emergency personnel.

    • Chemical Spill on Body
      • Immediate response is dependent on the specific chemical and the guidelines contained in the MSDS for chemicals and should be your first response. This emphasizes the importance of consulting the MSDS before accidents.
      • If water flushing is recommended by the MSDS, flood exposed area with running water from faucet or safety shower for at least 15 minutes.
      • Remove all contaminated clothing and shoes.
      • Obtain medical attention, if necessary.
      • Report incident to supervisor.

    • Hazardous Material Splashed in the Eye
      • Immediately rinse eyeball and inner surface of eyelid with water continuously for 15 minutes.
      • Forcibly hold eye open to effectively wash behind eyelids.
      • Obtain medical attention.
      • Report incident to supervisor.

  9. Protect floor drains or other means for environmental release. Spill socks and absorbents may be placed around drains, as needed.
  10. Contain and clean-up the spill according to the table above.
    • Loose spill control materials should be distributed over the entire spill area, working from the outside, circling to the inside. This reduces the chance of splash or spread of the spilled chemical.
    • Bulk absorbents and many spill pillows do not work with hydrofluoric acid. POWERSORB (by 3M) products and their equivalent will handle hydrofluoric acid. Specialized hydrofluoric acid kits also are available.
    • Many neutralizers for acids or bases have a color change indicator to show when neutralization is complete.

  11. When spilled materials have been absorbed, use brush and scoop to place materials in an appropriate container. Polyethylene bags may be used for small spills. Five gallon pails or 20 gallon drums with polyethylene liners may be appropriate for larger quantities.
  12. Complete a hazardous waste sticker, identifying the material as Spill Debris involving XYZ Chemical, and affix onto the container. Spill control materials will probably need to be disposed of as hazardous waste. Contact EHS at 710-2900 for advice on storage and packaging for disposal.
  13. Decontaminate the surface where the spill occurred using a mild detergent and water, when appropriate.
  14. Report all spills to your supervisor or the Principal Investigator.

Mercury Spills

Mercury spills from broken thermometers or other sources cannot easily be cleaned up with traditional spill control materials. To clean up a mercury spill:

  1. Put on a pair of gloves and eye protection.
  2. Pick up larger pieces of broken glass or debris taking care to avoid touching sharp edges. Place in a puncture-resistant container.
  3. Clean up any remaining mercury and small debris.
    • Begin by picking up the droplets. Use an index card or scraper to consolidate the droplets, and pick up the pool using a pipette, syringe or vacuum pump. Do not use the house vacuum system.
    • Commercial products such as sponges and powders may also be used. The sponges and powders require the use of an activator solution (mildly acidic) to be effective.
    • Sulfur powder indicates the presence of mercury by turning from yellow to brown when sprinkled on an affected surface.

  4. Place the mercury in a glass or plastic jar or a sturdy plastic bag. Only add visibly contaminated debris. Seal the bag and affix a label identifying the material as “mercury spill debris”.
  5. Please make sure to minimize the amount of debris involved. If gloves or other debris do not visibly contain mercury, they do not need to be included with the other waste. Bring the debris to the next scheduled waste pickup.

Precautions for Minimizing Mercury Incidents

  • Do not use mercury thermometers as stirring rods.
  • Replace mercury thermometers with non-mercury alternatives (see below)
  • Use secondary containment or a tray under mercury-containing equipment.

Non-Mercury Alternatives

There are a number of non-mercury alternatives for mercury-containing devices, such as thermometers. Consider replacing your mercury thermometers with non-mercury or digital thermometers.

Developing a Spill Response Plan

An effective spill response procedure should consider all of the items listed below. The complexity and detail of the plan will, of course depend upon the physical characteristics and volume of materials being handled, their potential toxicity, and the potential for releases to the environment.

  1. Review Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) or other references for recommended spill cleanup methods and materials, and the need for personal protective equipment (e.g., respirator, gloves, protective clothing, etc.)
  2. Acquire sufficient quantities and types of appropriate spill control materials to contain any spills that can be reasonably anticipated. The need for equipment to disperse, collect and contain spill control materials (e.g., brushes, scoops, sealable containers, etc.) should also be reviewed. See Recommended Spill Control Materials Inventory for more details.
  3. Acquire recommended personal protective equipment and training in its proper use. For example, if an air purifying respirator or self-contained breathing apparatus is needed, personnel must be enrolled in the Respiratory Protection Program and attend annual training and fit-testing.
  4. Place spill control materials and protective equipment in a readily accessible location within or immediately adjacent to the laboratory.
  5. Develop a spill response plan that includes:
    • Names and telephone numbers of individuals to be contacted in the event of a spill.
    • Evacuation plans for the room or building, as appropriate.
    • Instructions for containing the spilled material, including potential releases to the environment (e.g., protect floor drains).
    • Inventory of spill control materials and personal protective equipment.
    • Means for proper disposal of cleanup materials (in most cases, as hazardous waste) including contaminated tools and clothing.
    • Decontamination of the area following the cleanup.

  6. Discuss the spill response plans with all employees in your area.

Recommended Spill Control Material Inventory

Your laboratory or work area should have access to sufficient quantity of absorbents or other types of materials to control any spill that can be reasonably anticipated.

Personal Protective Equipment

  • 2 pairs chemical splash goggles
  • 2 pairs of gloves (recommend Silver Shield or 4H)
  • 2 pairs of shoe covers
  • 2 plastic or Tyvek aprons and/or Tyvek suits

Absorption Materials

  • 4 3M POWERSORB spill pillows (or equivalent)
  • 1 3M POWERSORB spill sock
  • 2 DOT pails (5 gallon) with polyethylene liners
    • 1 filled with loose absorbent, such as vermiculite or clay
    • 1 with minimum amount of loose absorbent in the bottom

Neutralizing Materials

  • Acid Neutralizer
  • Caustic Neutralizer
    • commercial neutralizers, such as Neutrasorb (for acids) and Neutracit-2 (for bases) have built in color change to indicate complete neutralization

  • Solvent Neutralizer
    • commercial solvent neutralizers, such as Solusorb, act to reduce vapors and raise the flashpoint of the mixture

Mercury Spills

  • Small mercury vacuum to pick up large drops (optional)
  • Hg Absorb Sponges - amalgamate mercury residue
  • Hg Absorb Powder - amalgamates mercury
  • Hg Vapor Absorbent - reduces concentration of vapor in hard to reach areas
  • Mercury Indicator - powder identifies presence of mercury

Clean-up Tools

  • Polypropylene scoop or dust pan
  • Broom or brush with polypropylene bristles
  • 2 polypropylene bags
  • sealing tape
  • pH test papers
  • waste stickers
  • floor sign - DANGER Chemical Spill - Keep Away

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