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Chemical Spills

Chemical spills in the laboratory can pose a significant risk to human health and the environment. All lab personnel must be trained on how to properly respond to chemical spills in order to minimize risk. In general, chemical spills can be placed into one of two categories: nonemergency chemical spills or emergency chemical spills.

Non-Emergency Chemical Spill Procedures

Non-emergency chemical spills are generally defined as spills involving a material, a quantity and in a location that the employee has been trained to handle. For example, a small spill of a routinely handled chemical reagent on a fumehood benchtop. These spills can be cleaned up by properly trained lab personnel using conventional lab PPE (e.g., safety glasses/goggles, lab coat, gloves) and a lab spill kit. In general, when a non-emergency spill occurs in the lab the area around the spill should be isolated, everyone in the lab should be made aware of the spill, and the spilled material should be absorbed and collected using either pads or some other absorbent material such as oil dry or kitty litter. Decontamination of the spill area should be conducted using an appropriate solvent (soap and water is often the most effective). Proper PPE should be worn at all times and only trained personnel should conduct the cleanup after reviewing the SDS(s) (specifically Section 6, “Accidental Release Measures”) to obtain chemical-specific cleanup information.

Emergency Chemical Spill Procedures

Emergency chemical spills are spills of any hazardous material in a quantity or location that the employee has not been trained to handle. These spills are generally more than a liter in volume and involve a highly toxic or reactive compound, present an immediate fire or environmental hazard, or require additional PPE (e.g., respirator) and specialized training to properly cleanup. The following procedures should be followed in the event of an emergency chemical spill:

  • Cease all activities and immediately evacuate the affected area (make sure that all personnel in the area are aware of the spill and also evacuate).
  • If chemical exposure has occurred to the skin or eyes, the affected personnel should be taken to the nearest safety shower and eyewash station.
  • Dial 901-4488-4444, which will contact the UTHSC Police Department (UTHSC PD). The UTHSC PD will contact the Office of Research Safety Affairs to initiate an emergency chemical spill response and clean-up. If the situation is, or could become an emergency (e.g., chemical exposure has occurred, a fire or explosion has occurred), the UTHSC PD will be able to contact the appropriate authorities (e.g. fire department, administration, etc.). Be prepared to provide the following information:
    • Name of person reporting
    • Any injuries or exposures
    • The location of the spill (building and room number).
    • The type of material(s) and approximate volume spilled.
    • Control measures already implemented.
    • Control access to the spill location until the spill response team arrives. This can be done by closing doors, posting signs or otherwise preventing personnel from entering the vicinity of the spill or areas where toxic vapors may be present.

Chemical Spill Kits

Each laboratory should have a spill response kit available for use. Lab spill kits can either be purchased from a vendor or created by lab personnel, but each spill kit should be equipped to handle small spills of the most common hazards in the laboratory. Spill response and cleanup materials that should be in the kit include:

  • Absorbent materials such as pads, booms, oil dry or kitty litter.
  • Neutralizing agents (e.g., Spill X) for acids and/or bases if high volume of acids and/or bases are stored in the laboratory.
  • Containers such as drums, buckets, and/or bags to containerize spilled material and contaminate debris generated during the cleanup process.
  • PPE such as gloves, safety glasses and/or goggles, lab coat or apron, chemical-resistant booties.
  • Caution tape or some other means to warn people of the spill.

Last Published: Mar 12, 2021