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Chemical Accidents & Spills

Knowing how to quickly assess and handle chemical accidents can help you avoid dangerous situations in your laboratory. Get started with these general guidelines:

  • Assess the overall situation.
  • Determine the appropriate action to resolve the situation.
  • Follow the pre-existing, approved local emergency plan.
  • Act swiftly and decisively.

Below are some recommended actions for specific emergencies. Some of the actions have been proposed by the Council of State Science Supervisors in Science & Safety: Making the Connection.

Chemical in the Eye

  • Flush the eye immediately with water while holding the eye open with fingers.
  • If wearing contact lens, remove and continue to rinse the eye with water.
  • Continue to flush the eye and seek immediate medical attention.

Acid/Base Spill

For a spill not directly on human skin, do the following:

  • Neutralize acids with powdered sodium hydrogen carbonate (sodium bicarbonate/ baking soda), or bases with vinegar (5% acetic acid solution).
  • Avoid inhaling vapors.
  • Spread diatomaceous earth to absorb the neutralized chemical.
  • Sweep up and dispose of as hazardous waste.

For spills directly on human skin, do the following:

  • Flush area with copious amounts of cold water from the faucet or drench shower for at least 5 minutes.
  • If spill is on clothing, first remove clothing from the skin and soak the area with water as soon as possible.
  • Arrange treatment by medical personnel.

Mercury Spill

  • Evacuate the affected area.
  • Close off interior doors and windows, and heating and air conditioning vents in the incident room.
  • Open exterior doors and windows to move the inside air outside.
  • Follow specific cleanup instructions detailed by the EPA (www.epa.gov) or by your state.

This information is from the School Chemistry Laboratory Safety Guide created by the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission (CPSC), Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

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