6.C.10.5 Spill Containment

All personnel who work in a laboratory in which hazardous substances are used should be familiar with their institution’s policy regarding spill control. For non-emergency3 spills, spill control kits may be available that are tailored to the potential risk associated with the materials being used in the laboratory. These kits are used to confine and limit the spill if such actions can be taken without risk of injury or contamination. An individual should be assigned to maintain the kit. Store spill kits near areas where spills may occur. Typical spill control kits include these items:

   spill control pillows, which are commercially available and generally can be used for absorbing solvents, acids, and caustic alkalis, but not HF;

   inert absorbents such as vermiculite, clay, sand, kitty litter, and Oil Dri, but not paper because it is not an inert material and should not be used to clean up oxidizing agents such as nitric acid;

   neutralizing agents for acid spills such as sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate;

   neutralizing agents for alkali spills such as sodium bisulfate and citric acid;

   large plastic scoops and other equipment such as brooms, pails, bags, and dustpans; and

   appropriate PPE, warnings, barricade tapes, and protection against slips or falls on the wet floor during and after cleanup.

In an emergency,4 follow institutional guidelines regarding spill containment.

6.C.10.6 Spill Cleanup

Specific procedures for cleaning up spills vary depending on the location of the accident, the amount and physical properties of the spilled material, the degree and type of toxicity, and the training of the personnel involved. Any cleanup should be performed while wearing appropriate PPE and in line with institutional guidance. General guidelines for handling several common incidental, non-emergency spills follow:

   Materials of low flammability that are not volatile or that have low toxicity. This category of hazardous substances includes inorganic acids (e.g., sulfuric and nitric acid) and caustic bases (e.g., sodium and potassium hydroxide). For cleanup, appropriate PPE, including gloves, chemical splash goggles, and (if necessary) shoe coverings, should be worn. Absorption of the spilled material with an inert absorbent and appropriate disposal are recommended. The spilled chemicals can be neutralized with materials such as sodium bisulfate (for alkalis) and sodium carbonate or bicarbonate (for acids), absorbed on Floor-Dri or vermiculite, scooped up, and disposed of according to the procedures detailed in Chapter 8, section 8.B.6.

   Flammable solvents. Fast action is crucial when a flammable solvent of relatively low toxicity is spilled. This category includes acetone, petroleum ether, pentane, hexane, diethyl ether, dimethoxyethane, and tetrahydrofuran. Other personnel in the laboratory should be alerted, all flames extinguished, and any spark-producing equipment turned off. In some cases the power to the laboratory should be shut off with the circuit breaker, but the ventilation system should be kept running. The spilled solvent should be soaked up with spill absorbent or spill pillows as quickly as possible. If this cannot be done quickly, evacuation should occur, and emergency personnel (911) should be called. Used absorbent and pillows should be sealed in containers and disposed of properly. Nonsparking tools should be used in cleanup.

   Highly toxic substances. The cleanup of highly toxic substances should not be attempted alone. Emergency responders should be notified, and the appropriate EHS expert should be contacted to obtain assistance in evaluating the hazards involved. These professionals will know how to clean up the material and may perform the operation.

   Debris management. Debris from the cleanup should be handled as hazardous waste if the spilled material falls into that category.

6.C.10.7 Handling Leaking Gas Cylinders

Leaking gas cylinders constitute serious hazards that may require an immediate evacuation of the area and a call to emergency responders. If a leak occurs, do not apply extreme tension to close a stuck valve. Wear appropriate PPE, which usually includes a self-contained breathing apparatus or an air-line respirator, when entering the area with the leak. (See also section 6.D.6.) The following guidelines cover leaks of various types of gases:

   Flammable, inert, or oxidizing gases. If safe to do so, move the cylinder to an isolated area, away from combustible material if the gas is flammable or an oxidizing agent. Post signs that describe


3A non-emergency response is appropriate in the case of an incidental release of hazardous substances where the substance can be absorbed, neutralized, or otherwise controlled at the time of release by personnel in the immediate area or by maintenance personnel.

4An emergency is a situation that poses an immediate threat to personal safety and health, the environment, or property that cannot be controlled and corrected safely and easily by individuals at the scene.

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