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CHEMICAL SPILLS chemical spill

Anticipate spills by having the appropriate safety equipment on hand. Flammable spills can ignite in only a minute or two. Know the properties of your spill equipment. Some chemicals are not recommended to be used with certain spill absorbents, neutralizers, disinfectants or suppressants. Keep these readily available in your laboratories. Additional spill control equipment is also stored in the hallway spill cabinets.

Periodically check 24-hour emergency contact names and numbers on laboratory doors to ensure these are up-to-date and legible.

If a spill occurs, immediately alert personnel in the area and do what is necessary to protect life. Warn others to stay out of the area and to avoid walking nearby. Secure the area.

If it is a small spill, your laboratory supervisor, principal investigator or research advisor is responsible for cleaning up the spill or making sure that it is cleaned up properly. (Whenever unsure how to handle a spill, contact the Environmental Health and Radiation Safety (EHRS) Department at 215-596-8925, 215-596-8843 or 267-295-3141.)

Use an absorbent material that will neutralize the spill if it is hazardous or corrosive, or suppress the vapors if it is a flammable, whenever possible!

If the spilled chemical is flammable, extinguish flames and all other sources of ignition (such as brush type motors) if safe to do so.

Always wear the proper personal protective equipment when cleaning up spills. At a minimum, proper gloves, goggles, booties, and a lab coat.  Know what type of gloves or booties that should be used for the chemical, in advance.

Confine or dike the spill if possible, to keep the area involved smaller, decrease the evaporation rate, and to protect floor and sink drains. Absorbents, spill socks or covers may be placed around or on drains, as needed.

Use Spill X-A to neutralize acid spills. Use Spill X-C to neutralize caustic spills. When using neutralizers, the reacton must be complete, before clean-up. (no popping or hissing) Use Spill X-S and vapor barrier absorbent sheets to suppress flammable vapors. (Fires start very quickly in a laboratory when flammable vapors are not controlled.) Also, know the quantities of chemicals that you are working with, so that you have enough neutralizer or suppressant on hand. Follow the directions on the kits or packaging containers.

Maintain fume hood ventilation (if applicable).

Place all spill clean-up material and residue into yellow hazardous waste bags or an appropriate container. You may use a dustpan and brush to scoop the spill residue into the container. Decontaminate the area with soap and water after cleanup.

Seal bags or containers securely. Use strong tape on bags, and label the containers/bags with the chemical name(s) or as "spill debris."  Bring the bag to the central stockrooms for disposal. Make sure someone is there to accept it.

The EHRS Department must be informed of the spill. (X8925), (X8843) or (X3141) (Complete a Laboratory Incident Report.) Also, share incidents and near misses regularly with your department staff and students, and EHRS for lessons learned.

Use the mercury spill kits placed in laboratories for mercury spills or contact the Central Stockroom, if one is needed. Read the instructions enclosed in the kit. Use the mercury vapor suppressant spray or powder available from the Stockrooms to suppress mercury vapors. However, it is best to replace all mercury thermometers with alcohol-filled, citrus-filled, digital, etc., whenever possible. Most laboratories have done this already.

If the spill is large, flammable, toxic or a threat to personnel, students, or the public, notify the EHRS Department (X8925, X8843 or X3141) or the Department of Public Safety (X7000) immediately. Ventilate or maintain fume hood ventilation, if possible.

Be prepared to report:

If the spilled chemical is flammable, extinguish all nearby flames and sources of ignition (such as brush-type motors), if safe to do so.

Confine or dike the spill on your way out, if possible.

Protect floor drains or other means for environmental release (e.g., sink drains), if possible.  Absorbents, spill socks or covers may be placed around or on drains, as needed.

Evacuate the area, warn others to leave and stay out of the area.   Avoid touching the spill, walking in it, or breathing it, whether it has an odor or not.  (Secure area, post a warning sign, if it is safe to do so.)

Remain on the scene, but at a safe distance, to receive and direct EHRS/Public Safety emergency personnel when they arrive. If the event affects the outdoor environment, move or remain upwind. You are needed to relay essential information, and possibly receive important information.

Click here for information on biohazard and blood spills from the Biosafety Manual.

Click here for information on radioactive spills from the Radiation Safety Manual.


University of the Sciences in Philadelphia • 600 South Forty-third Street • Philadelphia, PA 19104-4495 • phone: 215-596-8800 • email: safety@usip.edu