Chemical Spills

Every laboratory should have access to spill control materials for the chemicals used in their lab. General use chemical spill kits equipped with spill pads, waste bags, loose absorbents and personal protective equipment can be found in the chemical spill kits.

If your lab uses hydrofluoric acid (HF), keep a supply of spill control materials specifically designed for HF.

If your lab uses mercury or mercury-containing equipment, keep some mercury absorbing powders or sponges or similar materials on hand. Consider replacing mercury-containing equipment with non-mercury alternatives.


The following practices can help prevent spills or minimize the spread of a spill:

  • Place containers of hazardous chemicals in secondary containment (Figure 8.3.a), such as a tray, bucket, basin or plastic tub.
  • Line benchtops with absorbent paper.
  • Move chemicals through the building on carts with lips to prevent the container from sliding off.
  • Use chemical carriers (Figure 8.3.b) when carrying chemicals through hallways.

Figure 8.3 Secondary Containment (left) and Chemical Carrier (right)

Spill Clean up Procedures

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.

The following are general guidelines to be followed for a chemical spill.

  • Immediately alert area occupants and supervisor, and evacuate the area, if necessary.
  • If there is a fire or medical attention is needed, contact LS.
  • 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.
  • If a volatile, flammable material is spilled, immediately warn everyone, control sources of ignition and ventilate the area.
  • Use personal protective equipment, as appropriate to the hazards. Refer to the SDS or other references for information.
  • 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 LS. 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 LSS.
  • 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 LS.
  • Protect floor drains or other means for environmental release. Spill socks and absorbents may be placed around drains, as needed.
  • Contain and clean up the spill according to the Table 8.2 below. 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. Many neutralizers for acids or bases have a color change indicator to show when neutralization is complete.
  • 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. 20 L pails or 75 L drums with polyethylene liners may be appropriate for larger quantities.
  • Complete a hazardous waste sticker, identifying the material and affix onto the container. Spill control materials will probably need to be disposed of as hazardous waste. Contact LS for advice on storage and packaging for disposal.
  • Decontaminate the surface where the spill occurred using a mild detergent and water, when appropriate.
  • Report all spills to your supervisor and LSS.

Table 8.2 Spill Containment and Clean-up




Treatment Materials


up to 300 mL

chemical treatment or absorption

neutralization or absorption spill kit


300 mL –2.5 liters


absorption spill kit


more than 2.5 liters

call 7444

outside help

This table serves only as a general directive. Spills of highly hazardous or unknown materials must be conducted only by trained users, SDS directives must be followed. For further information please see the flow chart (Figure C.2. Chemical Spills section) summarizing the educated decision-making process during handling of the spill.

**Adopted from Princeton university emergency guidelines for the campus community web page (Reference 8.9).

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.

  • Review SDSs or other references for recommended spill clean up methods and materials, and the need for personal protective equipment (e.g., respirator, gloves, protective clothing, etc.)
  • 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.
  • Acquire recommended personal protective equipment and training in its proper use.
  • Place spill control materials and protective equipment in a readily accessible location within or immediately adjacent to the laboratory.

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 clean up materials (in most cases, as hazardous waste) including contaminated tools and clothing.
  • Decontamination of the area following the clean up.
  • Discuss the spill response plans with all employees in the area.

References and sources for information from the relevant websites and documentation of different universities, NGOs and government agencies used in the preparation of this website are provided at references.