Source: Robert M. Rioux & Taslima Zaman, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Since chemicals are commonly used for laboratory research purposes, it is extremely important to be adequately prepared to handle chemical spills or accidental release of hazardous chemicals, which can happen at any time. No matter how minor a spill may be, the inability to respond in an emergency situation could severely endanger public health or the environment. All chemical spills must be properly disposed of, satisfying diverse regulations and standards, such as those of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Act of 1986, which are administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In the case of a chemical spill, the sooner it is controlled, the less damage it can cause. As the spill is controlled, the spill should also be contained in as small an area as possible. The spill must then be cleaned and the area decontaminated or neutralized as required.
1. Spill Control
- Before attempting to control a chemical spill, put on proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including but not limited to chemical-resistant gloves and safety goggles with side shields. Your organization's Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Office should have the protective clothing required. Do not attempt to rescue someone else without appropriate knowledge of the environment and proper PPE.
- Respond immediately to control the spill and minimize the damage by stopping the flow of the material being spilled.
- Isolate the spill site by marking or roping off the area.
- If the spill is large or involves an acutely dangerous chemical, evacuate the area immediately and seek help by dialing 911. An individual familiar with the contents of the spill should be available to provide responders with this information. Have the product information and the safety data sheet (SDS) available.
- Regardless of the size of the spill, if the contents represent a potential immediate or long-term hazard to occupants of the area where the spill occurred, the spill should be reported to the proper regulatory agencies. In most cases, the Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) performs all regulatory notifications and verifies the spill has been cleaned up in accordance with regulatory requirements and standards.
2. Spill Containment
- Contain the spilled material to the smallest possible area, in order to minimize potential spreading. Spill kits often contain sorbent, which can be used directly on or around the spill to form a barricade. EHS often has an inventory of spill control materials.
- Avoid contaminating surrounding areas and make sure the spilled material does not come into contact with any body of water, including storm water sewers, drains, streams channels, or ditches.
3. Spill Clean-up
- Anyone causing a spill is responsible for cleaning it up or for making sure that others clean it up. Anyone who comes across an unattended spill is responsible for reporting the spill to the proper regulatory agencies and/or EHS.
- EHS will oversee, assist and/or clean-up, depending on contents of what has been spilled and the volume of the spill.
- Decontamination or neutralization of the spill site may be required.
- If any sorbent material was used to soak up the spilled material, dispose the saturated material as hazardous waste in accordance to regulatory standards.
- Disposable PPE or badly contaminated garments should be properly disposed of immediately after the spill clean-up.
4. Spill Prevention
- Assess the types of hazards present in the laboratory paying close attention to chemical storage, handling, and transportation.
- Equipment used with chemicals in the laboratory should also be well maintained by calibrating and periodically checking for leaks, loose connections, and faulty valves.
Failure to respond to a spill, whether large or small, could result in the endangerment of public health and the environment. Therefore, all laboratory personnel must be prepared for handling spilled or accidentally released chemicals.
All chemical spills must be disposed as per the regulations and standards, such as Resource Conservation and Recovery Act or RCRA, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986.
The more quickly the spill is controlled, the more likely it will be contained in a small area, and the less severe the damage could be.
In this video, we will discuss the procedures for spill containment, post spill cleanup, and prevention measures one could take to avoid spills.
Before attempting to control a spill, put on proper personal protective equipment, such as chemical resistant gloves and safety goggles.
Stop the flow of the material being spilled, to minimize the damage, then isolate the spill site by marking or roping off the area.
In case of a large spill or an acutely dangerous chemical, evacuate the area immediately and seek help by contacting local emergency services. Have someone remain near the scene to provide information from safety data sheets to the responders.
Once the spill has been controlled, contain the spilled material to prevent spreading by using sorbent from chemical spill kits located in the laboratory directly on or around it.
Avoid contaminating surrounding areas and make sure to prevent spills from going down any drains.
When a spill occurs, have the person responsible clean it up. Report any unattended spills to the EH&S office.
EHS will oversee or assist in the cleanup depending on the toxicity or the quantity of the material. Decontamination or neutralization of the area may be required.
Remove any sorbent material used to soak up the spill to a container, and label it as hazardous waste. Also properly dispose of gloves and contaminated garments immediately after cleanup.
Finally, verify with your organization's EHS office that the spill cleanup meets regulatory requirements and standards.
While it is prudent to learn how to handle chemical spills, it is also wise to learn how to prevent them from happening. An important first step is to assess the types of chemical hazards present, and pay close attention to their storage. This will be covered in more detail in this collection.
Also, maintain laboratory equipment used near chemicals, by periodically checking for leaks, loose connections, or faulty valves.
You've just watched JoVE's introduction to handling chemical spills. You should now understand how to control, contain, and clean them up. Thanks for watching!
Applications and Summary
Research laboratories should be assessed for hazards, especially those related to chemical storage, handling, and transportation. Careful consideration of those hazards allows for the prevention of any chemical spill/release. In the event of a chemical spill, it is important to first be safe and wear proper PPE before attempting to handle the spill or trying to rescue someone. If one acts quickly and safely to stop the flow of the chemical, it will minimize structural damage and exposure to individuals. When the spill is controlled, the spill should also be kept from spreading and contaminating the surroundings. Spill incidents should be reported to the proper authority (which will depend on your organization's standard operating procedure involving chemical spills) and/or EHS and cleaned accordingly.
- Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Regulations at https://www.epa.gov/rcra/resource-conservation-and-recovery-act-rcra-regulations#haz
- Penn State EHS Chemical and Oil Spill/Release Clean-Up and Reporting Requirements at http://legacy.ehs.psu.edu/envprot/SpillReporting.pdf
- Occupational Health and Safety [OSHA]. Compliance guidelines (Standards- 1910.120 App C). at https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9768