Chemical Spills

Chemical spills can result in chemical exposures and contaminations. Whether a chemical spill can be safely cleaned up by laboratory staff depends on multiple factors including the hazards of the chemicals spilled, the size of the spill, the presence of incompatible materials, and whether you have adequate training and supplies to safely clean up the spill. DO NOT enter the area if you cannot assess the conditions of the environment well enough to be sure of your own safety.

Small chemical spills of low toxicity which do not present the potential for over exposure or a significant inhalation hazard by being volatile or a dust can generally be safe to clean up by laboratory personnel. Small spill is general a spill involving a chemical that is not highly toxic, does not present a significant fire or environmental hazard, and is not in a public area such as a common hallway. Large chemical spills include spills of any quantity of highly toxic chemicals or chemicals in public areas or adjacent to drains. Large spills require emergency response.

How to handle a small spill:

  • Evacuate all non-essential persons from the spill area.
  • If needed call for medical assistance by dialing 911 from any campus phone or 415-476-6911 (from a non-campus phone and/or cell phone).
  • Confine the spill small area. Do not let it spread.

Avoid breathing in vapors from the spill. If the spill is in a non-ventilated area, do not attempt to clean it up. Call for emergency personnel to respond and clean up the spill.

  • Don appropriate PPE including a laboratory coat, splash goggles, and appropriate chemically resistant gloves.
  • Work with another person to clean-up the spill. Do not clean-up a spill alone.
  • Use appropriate kit to neutralize and absorb inorganic acids and bases. For other chemicals use the appropriate kit or absorb the spill with sorbent pads, vermiculite or dry sand.
  • Collect the residue and place it in a clear plastic bag. Double bag the waste and label the bag with the contents. Create a WASTe tag for pick-up.

Large chemical spills require emergency response. Large spills are greater than 1 liter or may be spills containing highly toxic, volatile or flammable chemicals. Immediately evacuate others in the area, close all doors and call 911 from any campus phone or (415) 476-6911 (from a non-campus phone and/or cell phone).

If the nature of the spill presents a situation that may be immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) to building occupants or present significant fire risk, and you cannot safetly or quickly alert others to leave the area, then activate a fire alarm, evacuate the area and wait for emergency response to arrive.

The UCSF EH&S Spill Response Team (SRT) provides 24-hour response to the UCSF campus, Health, and some satellite facilities. The SRT responds to any spill or potential spill involving chemical, radioactive, and biohazardous materials that may pose a threat to health, property or the environment. On-site spill response is generally within an hour of notification.

Highly Toxic Chemical Spills

Do not try to clean up spills of any size. All spills require emergency response!

  • Aromatic Amines
  • Bromines
  • Carbon Disulfude
  • Cyanides
  • Ethers
  • Hydrazine
  • Nitriles
  • Nitro-Compounds
  • Organic Halides

Choosing Spill Cleanup Materials
Ensure your area has appropriate spill cleanup materials before a spill happens. Polypropylene-based absorbent pads (such as this product) are recommended for general spill cleanup use, as they are safe to use with a broad range of chemicals.

However, it is important to review the chemicals in your area and determine if specialty spill cleanup materials are needed. For instance, if your lab has a large amount of inorganic acids, consider purchasing an acid spill kit that also contains an alkaline neutralizing agent, which will minimize the risk of chemical exposure & injury during cleanup. Specialized spill kits are available for a variety of hazardous substances, including formaldehyde (example kit). For assistance with selection of spill kits, please contact your Department Safety Advisor.

Emergency showers and eyewashes

Before beginning work in the laboratory all employees must be familiar with the location of emergency showers and eyewashes and how to use them. The pathways to and around emergency equipment must be kept clear at all times to allow for unobstructed access.

Emergency Eyewashes
  • Immediately flush eyes for at least 15 minutes. Delay can result in serious injury! Ask someone in the laboratory to assist you.
  • Use your hands to open your eyelids while rotating the eyeballs in all directions to remove contamination from around the eyes.
  • Seek medical attention after washing the affected area for 15 minutes and call 911 or go to the nearest emergency care facility.
Emergency Showers
  • Remove contaminated clothing, shoes, jewelry and your laboratory coat. Ask someone in the laboratory to assist you.
  • Immediately flush the area with copious amounts of water for at least 15 minutes. If your eyes do not require flushing, attempt to protect the eyes from cross contamination.
  • Seek medical attention after washing the affected area for 15 minutes and call 911 or go to the nearest emergency care facility.

EHS Categories

Chemical Safety