Hazardous Chemical Spill Cleanup

Policy Information
Policy TitleHazardous Chemical Spill Cleanup
Responsible OfficeEnvironmental Health and Safety (EH&S)
Policy TypeEnvironmental Health
Policy Number1005
Last Revision Date10/24/2023

Most chemical spills are the result of casual handling of chemicals and a lack of pre-planning. Before conducting any experiments, read the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for the chemicals you plan to use. SDS’s contain useful information relating to the chemical and physical properties, physical and health hazards, safe handling precautions (including proper personal protective equipment), spill response, and emergency and first aid procedures.

If a spill does occur, follow the procedure outlined below. Keep in mind that the responsibility for cleaning up a minor chemical spill rests with the individual that caused it. The Environmental Health & Safety Department (607-777-2211) is available for advice on cleaning up minor chemical spills and for conducting major spill clean up.

Chemical Spills

When spills occur, it is necessary to take prompt and appropriate action. Appropriate action will depend upon the severity of the hazards associated with the particular chemical involved.

Minor Spill

Only attempt to clean up a spill if it is minor, a known material, and presents limited risk.

Begin the cleanup immediately by usingproper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, goggles, etc. as required by the Safety Data Sheet (SDS)

Spill control usually begins by stopping the flow of the spill by tipping the container or placing in secondary containment. Clean up the spill by spreading appropriate absorbent material for the chemical spilled (i.e., absorbent clay for oil and most aqueous and organic liquid spills, calcium carbonate for acid spills, citric acid for base spills, and Hg Absorb Powder [found in the Mercury kit] for mercury spills). Be sure to check the SDS sheets of the chemicals you are using before you begin an experiment to ensure you have the correct type of spill absorbent on hand. This is of particular importance when working with highly reactive or toxic chemicals such as sodium metal, mercury, and hydrofluoric acid.

After allowing the chemical to absorb, scoop up the material and deposit into an appropriate container, usually a one or five gallon plastic container. Wipe up the contaminated surface with soapy water and a sponge and then place everything into the container for disposal. Seal the container and label it with a  "Hazardous Chemical Waste Tag" and dispose of the material through the Hazardous Waste Program. Report the spill to your supervisor and the department of Environmental Health & Safety at 607-777-221. EH&S will conduct mercury vaport testing for all mercury spills.

Major Spills

If the spill involves a large quantity of chemicals or a material unknown in chemical composition, or is potentially dangerous (explosive, toxic fumes), evacuate the room, floor, and/or building as necessary, report the spill (Dial 911 on a campus phone or 607-777-2222 on a cell phone), limit access to the area, and stand by in a safe place until help arrives.

Note*- If the spill is immediately dangerous to life and health pull the fire alarm to empty the building. Then call 911.

When reporting a spill, you will be asked for the following information:

-your name

-where the spill occurred (building and room number)

-the materials involved (spell clearly and slowly)

-the amount spilled

-any immediate actions you took

-how the spill occurred (if you know or can guess)

-who first observed the spill and at what time

-are there any injuries

-a call back number (if available) and contact name

Prevention: Most chemical spills can be avoided by following these safety precautions.

  1. Before transporting or using a chemical, read the precautionary (or warning) panel of the product label and the Safety Data Sheet.
  2. When transporting bottles of liquid chemicals, use secondary containers, such as safety pails or acid buckets. Do not use containers such as plastic bags or cardboard boxes.
  3. When using laboratory carts or dollies, be aware of recessed floor drains or other objects lying on the floor that may force the wheels to swivel, jarring the cart, and causing a bottle to tip or fall off.
  4. When hazardous chemicals must be transported on an elevator, do not allow passengers to ride with you.
  5. Order the minimum amount of chemicals that you need. Keep quantities of hazardous chemicals at a minimum to reduce the fire and explosion hazard associated with these materials.
  6. An annual cleaning of classrooms, laboratories, and storage rooms should be conducted to remove old, unwanted, or excess chemicals.
  7. Incompatible chemicals must be stored separately to reduce the possibility of accidental contact. For assistance with this, please contact EH&S at 607-777-2211.