Northwestern Office for Research


Incidental Chemical Spill Clean Up Procedures

Information by type of spill:
 Procedure for Spills of Volatile, Toxic, or Flammable Materials
 Procedure for Chemical Spill on a Person
 Procedure for Cryogenic Liquid Spill on a Person
 Procedure for Small, Low-Toxicity Spills
 Mercury Spill Procedure

Procedures for Spills of Volatile, Toxic, or Flammable Materials

  1. Warn all persons nearby.
  2. Turn off any ignition sources such as burners, motors, and other spark-producing equipment.
  3. Leave the room and close the door if possible.
  4. Call University Police at 456 to report the hazardous material spill. University Police will contact ORS emergency response personnel at anytime to respond to hazardous material spills.
  5. Small spills can be absorbed with paper towels or other absorbents. However, these materials can increase the surface area and evaporation rate, increasing the potential fire hazard if the material is flammable and airborne concentration reaches the flammability level.

Procedures for Chemical Spill on a Person

  1. Know where the nearest eyewash and safety shower are located.
  2. For small spills on the skin, flush immediately under running water for at least 15 minutes, removing any jewelry that might contain residue. If there is no sign of a burn, wash the area with soap under warm running water. Exception: only 5 minutes of flushing for HF burns. Proceed to aggressive antidote gel application as soon as possible. The antidote is the best hope of preventing permanent bone or tissue damage.
  3. If pain returns after the 15-minute flooding, resume flooding the area (but not for HF spills). When providing assistance to a victim of chemical contamination, use appropriate personal protective equipment.
  4. For a chemical splash in the eyes, immediately flush the eyes under running potable water for 15 minutes, holding the eyes open and rotating the eyeballs. This is preferably done at an eyewash fountain with tepid water and properly controlled flow. Hold the eyelids open and move the eye up, down, and sideways to ensure complete coverage. Use an irrigator loop to thoroughly flush the conjunctiva under the upper eyelid, if available in your first aid kit. If no eyewash fountain is available, put the victim on his or her back and gently pour water into the eyes for 15 minutes or until medical personnel arrive. If HF is splashed in the eye, flush for 5 minutes and then irrigate the eye with a 1% solution prepared from the calcium gluconate antidote gel.
  5. For spills on clothing, immediately remove contaminated clothing, including shoes and jewelry, while standing under running water or the safety shower. When removing shirts or pullover sweaters, be careful not to contaminate the eyes. Cutting off such clothing will help prevent spreading the contamination. To prepare for emergencies, shears (rounded-tip scissors) should be available in the first aid kit to allow safe cutting of contaminated clothing.
  6. Consult the MSDS to see if any delayed effects should be expected, and keep the MSDS with the victim. Call UP to have the victim taken to the emergency room for medical attention. Be sure to inform emergency personnel of the decontamination procedures used prior to their arrival (for example, flushing for 15 minutes with water). Be certain that emergency room personnel are told exactly what the victim was contaminated with so they can treat the victim accordingly.

Procedure for Cryogenic Liquid Spill on a Person

Contact with cryogenic liquids may cause crystals to form in tissues under the spill area, either superficially or more deeply in the fluids and underlying soft tissues. The first aid procedure for contact with cryogenic liquids is identical to that for frostbite. Re-warm the affected area as quickly as possible by immersing it in warm, but not hot, water (between 102 and 105 F). Do not rub the affected tissues. Do not apply heat lamps or hot water and do not break blisters. Cover the affected area with a sterile covering and seek assistance as you would for burns.

Incidental Spills-Procedure for Small, Low-Toxicity Chemical Spills

Be prepared. Keep appropriate spill-containment material on hand for emergencies. Consult with ORS to determine which materials are suitable in a particular lab.

Laboratory workers must receive training to distinguish between the types of spills they can handle on their own and those spills that are classified as "MAJOR." Major spills dictate the need for outside help.

Laboratory workers are qualified to clean-up spills that are "incidental." OSHA defines an incidental spill as a spill that does not pose a significant safety or health hazard to employees in the immediate vicinity nor does it have the potential to become an emergency within a short time frame. The period that constitutes a short time is not defined. Laboratory workers can handle incidental spills because they are expected to be familiar with the hazards of the chemicals they routinely handle during an "average" workday. If the spill exceeds the scope of the laboratory workers' experience, training or willingness to respond, the workers must be able to determine that the spill cannot be dealt with internally.

Emergency assistance is provided by ORS or an outside agency. Spills requiring the involvement of individuals outside the lab are those exceeding the exposure one would expect during the normal course of work. Spills in this category are those which have truly become emergency situations in that laboratory workers are overwhelmed beyond their level of training. Their response capability is compromised by the magnitude of the incident.

Factors that clearly indicate a major spill are:

  • the need to evacuate employees in the area
  • the need for response from outside the immediate release area
  • the release poses, or has potential to pose, conditions that are immediately dangerous to life and health
  • the release poses a serious threat of fire and explosion
  • the release requires immediate attention due to imminent danger
  • the release may cause high levels of exposure to toxic substances
  • there is uncertainty that the worker can handle the severity of the hazard with the PPE and equipment that has been provided and the exposure limit could be easily exceeded
  • the situation is unclear or data is lacking regarding important factors.

The following steps shall be followed for incidental spills:

  1. Alert persons in the area that a spill has occurred.
  2. Evaluate the toxicity, flammability, and other hazardous properties of the chemical as well as the size and location of the spill (for example, chemical fume hood or elevator) to determine whether evacuation or additional assistance is necessary. Large or toxic spills are beyond the scope of this procedure.
  3. Contain any volatile material within a room by keeping doors closed. Increase exhaust efficiency by minimizing sash height of the chemical fume hood or activating the emergency purge, if available.
  4. Consult your MSDS, the laboratory emergency plan, or procedures in this document, or call ORS for correct cleaning procedures.
  5. Obtain cleaning equipment and protective gear from ORS, if needed.
  6. Wear protective equipment such as goggles, apron, laboratory coat, gloves, shoe covers, or respirator. Base the selection of the equipment on the hazard.
  7. First cordon off the spill area to prevent inadvertently spreading the contamination over a much larger area.
  8. Absorb liquid spills using paper towels, spill pillows, vermiculite, or sand. Place the spill pillow over the spill and draw the free liquid into the pillow. Sprinkle vermiculite or sand over the surface of the free liquid.
  9. Place the used pillows or absorbent materials in plastic bags for disposal along with contaminated disposable gear, such as gloves.
  10. Neutralize spills of corrosives and absorb, if appropriate. Sweep up waste and place in plastic bags for disposal.
  11. Complete a Surplus Chemical Collection Form. ORS will pick up the wastes.
  12. Complete an Incident Report Form describing the spill and send a copy to ORS. A copy may be kept by the department head, if required.

Mercury Spill Procedure

Mercury is a high-density, low-viscosity liquid at room temperature. During a spill, it can form tiny droplets that adhere to surfaces and enter cracks and crevices. ORS has a mercury vacuum and mercury vapor analyzer available to assist with large or difficult-to-clean mercury spills. In the case of small mercury spills (e.g., mercury-containing thermometers), laboratory personnel should be able to handle the cleanup. Cleanup kits are available from ORS.

To minimize the spill hazard, place a splash plate beneath all mercury-containing equipment.

Procedures for small mercury spills:

Equipment needed - Mercury Spill Kit from ORS

  • Mercury vacuum pump, eyedropper, water or vacuum drive aspirator (optional)
  • Chemical amalgam
  • Laboratory coat
  • Gloves
  • Shoe protectors
  • Glass or plastic collection container
  • Plastic bags
  • Wipes or paper towels
  • Barricade tape

  1. Before entering the contaminated area, put on protective clothing.
  2. Establish a cleanup area and section it off to avoid spreading mercury.
  3. Draw all visible mercury into a glass or plastic collection container.
  4. Sprinkle the contaminated area with chemical amalgam. Wet with a little water.
  5. Wipe up the powder from the contaminated area with a wet towel or a damp sponge impregnated with chemical amalgam. Repeat steps 4 and 5.
  6. Sprinkle a very light coating of chemical amalgam into the cracks and crevices.
  7. Dispose of the contaminated solid waste material (such as boots, gloves, wipes, or thermometer glass) in a plastic bag and seal tightly.
  8. Dispose of the collected mercury and the bags of waste through ORS. Do not bring the waste bag to ORS; it will be picked up from your laboratory. Store the bag in a chemical fume hood until it is collected by ORS.
  9. The PI shall ensure that an Incident Report Form is completed and sent to ORS.

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