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UNH Emergency Preparedness -emergency find it

Emergency Response Information


Current Threat Level


Hazardous Material Spills

Possible Situations:
A minor or major spill of a known or unknown substance (toxic, radioactive, biohazardous, or flammable) is witnessed, observed, or reported. The spill is on your floor, in another part of the building, or in a location that could affect the general area.

A minor spill is characterized by the confidence and capability of the staff to clean up the spill and return the area to normal working conditions without the assistance of emergency personnel. The clean-up crew must be properly trained, must don the appropriate personal protective gear, and must use suitable equipment and supplies.

A major chemical spill requires the assistance of emergency personnel from outside the Department - the Office of Environmental Health & Safety, or Police and/or Fire Departments.


Response to a chemical spill occurs at several levels. For many employees and students, spills may be cleaned up at the first level - theirs. The Office of Environmental Health & Safety shall manage other spills.

When is a spill really a spill?

A spill is defined as "a material out of control." In a particular sense, the quantity of material is not important. The essential issue is whether the hazards, the location, and the quantity cause the situation to be beyond the laboratory worker’s capabilities.

Experience provides some guidelines whether a spill should be cleaned-up by laboratory personnel or by spill response personnel. For convenience and safety, a minimum quantity has been established beyond, which all spills, regardless of the substance, must be reported. All spills greater than 1 quart (1 liter) must be reported to the Office of Environmental Health & Safety (OEH&S 862-4041 during normal business hours, and to Dispatch at 911). While this may seem overly stringent to some, experience indicates that over-reporting is preferable to under-reporting.

In addition to the minimum quantity, the following types of spills must be reported, regardless of the quantity:

  • • All spills of extremely flammable materials (flash point less than 20 degrees F)
  • • All spills of extremely toxic materials (5mg/kg LD50)
  • • All mercury spills
  • • All personal contamination
  • • All leaking containers
  • • All uncontrolled compressed gas releases

Personnel are responsible to have procedures to clean spills that are below the reportable level. The following must be addressed:

Personal Safety
The primary consideration for laboratory personnel when a material is spilled is safety. Safety for every person in the laboratory and in the building is of paramount importance.

If the spill could potentially harm someone, call 862-4041 or Dispatch at 911. Otherwise, the laboratory that will clean up the spill must follow specific procedures to do so safely and effectively.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Before attempting to clean up a spill, the lab responder must put on a minimum amount of personal protective equipment (PPE).

  • • Safety glasses
  • • Lab Coat
  • • Nitrile or neoprene gloves

Clean-up Materials
Laboratories must have certain supplies available before attempting to clean a spill. The actual materials to be used will depend upon the hazards posed by the spilled material. The following is a recommended list of supplies:

  • • Absorbent pads
  • • Absorbent socks
  • • Acid neutralizer
  • • Activated carbon
  • • Caustic neutralizer
  • • Dust pan & brush
  • • Heavy duty plastic trash bags
  • • Laboratory tongs
  • • One gallon or five gallon plastic bucket with lid
  • • UNH Hazardous Waste Tags

Note: This procedure is not applicable to spills of Mercury or radioactive materials.


  1. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  2. Use the appropriate PPE. If, during the spill or subsequent actions, any person comes in contact with a chemical, refer to the manufacturers Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for First Aid guidance.

  3. Control
  4. Control the source of the spill, if it is still present. For example, a bottle which was knocked over may still have some material in it. The responder should carefully upright the container, place it on an absorbent pad in safe location, and replace the lid on the container. Any spread of spilled material must also be controlled. This is best done by placing absorbent pads or socks around and on the spill. Many laboratory spills involve broken glass. The spill responder must take precautions to avoid getting cut.

  5. Absorb/Remove

  6. Acid, Caustic, or other Non-Flammable Liquids
    These are the most easily absorbed with absorbent pads and socks. Place used absorbent pads and socks in a trash bag. Frequently, laboratory spills will spread into drawers and behind or under equipment. The responder must be careful to locate all such contaminated areas.
    Flammable Liquids
    Flammable liquids should be absorbed on activated carbon or absorbent pads and socks. Use approximately 2 pounds of activated carbon per pint (0.5 liters) of liquid. Use the dust brush or spatula to thoroughly mix the activated carbon with the liquid. Use the dustpan and the brush to collect all residue. Remove large pieces of broken glass as described in step 4 and place all other debris in a plastic trash bag or appropriate container.

  7. Remove broken glass
  8. Using tongs, dustpan and brush, or by carefully using gloved fingers, remove all large pieces of glass and place them in an appropriate container.

  9. Decontaminate
  10. Acidic Liquids
    Apply acid neutralizer on all surfaces affected by the spill. Soak up the neutralizer and apply fresh neutralizer. Remove the residue with absorbent pads or paper towels. Thoroughly wash the affected area with hot soapy water. Use absorbent pads to finish cleaning the area.
    Caustic Liquids
    Apply caustic neutralizer on all surfaces affected by the spill. Soak up the neutralizer and apply fresh neutralizer. Remove the residues with absorbent pads or paper towels. Thoroughly wash the affected area with hot soapy water. Use absorbent pads to finish cleaning the area.
    Flammable Liquids
    Thoroughly wash the area with hot soapy water. Use absorbent pads to finish cleaning the area.

  11. Container
  12. Use absorbent pads, neutralizers, and hot soapy water, as needed, to remove all traces of spilled material from the container. Remember to clean the bottom of the container.

  13. Inspect
  14. Carefully check the entire affected area for spilled residue, hidden contamination, or unsafe conditions, and act accordingly.

  15. Package Spill Residues
  16. Place all spill residues and contaminated PPE in plastic bags. Seal the bags and place in a bucket or other appropriate container. Attach a properly completed UNH Waste Tag on the outside of the container. Place the bucket in the Satellite Accumulation Area. Contact Martin McCrone 862-3526 for removal.

  17. Restock Spill Supplies
  18. Gather and restock supplies as needed.

Evacuation Policy for Hazardous Material Spills:

  • • Evacuations are rarely needed in minor spills.
  • • Workers who are not involved in the minor clean up of the affected areas may simply vacate the premises for a brief period.
  • • Evacuation of rooms, floors, or even buildings is usually necessary in major spills.

The decision to evacuate is made jointly between the Department and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety. Be certain to alert all persons in the affected area to evacuate to the assembly area or to an alternate location if the assembly area is in the danger zone. Secure the area and control the perimeter to restrict access into or through the affected area. Delegate a person knowledgeable about the spill to coordinate with arriving emergency personnel.

SAMPLE SCRIPT: "We have had a hazardous spill in your building. Evacuate to _______ immediately. Turn off all equipment. Take your personal belongings. Do not return to the building until you are notified that the spill is cleaned up."

What you can do.

  1. Make sure that all lab and maintenance workers are trained in lab safety procedures. Post lab safety guidelines.
  2. Segregate chemicals. For example, separate:
    • • flammable solvents from acids and oxidizers
    • • inorganic acids from inorganic bases
    • • nitric acid from organic acids
    • • inorganic acids from cyanide

  3. Label peroxide-forming chemicals with the date received and the date opened.
  4. Do not purchase excess quantities of chemicals. Do not store over ten (10) gallons of flammable liquids in a lab unless they are in an approved flammable storage cabinet.
  5. Never keep flammables in refrigerators or freezers that are not listed as nonflammable or explosion proof.
  6. Dispose of needles and sharps in a rigid plastic container.
  7. Secure compressed gas cylinders with welded link chains to the wall. Cylinders should be individually secured.
  8. Know the location of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the chemicals being used in the area. Become familiar with the NFPA diamond symbol posted on doors of all chemical locations.
  9. Avoid high storage of large or heavy items, anchor all shelves and storage cabinets. Install seismic anchoring bars on all chemical shelving.
  10. Maintain a clean, well-kept work environment.
  11. Additional reference information is available in the UNH Chemical Hygiene Plan.

Call the Office of Environmental Health and Safety at 862-3526, for information regarding waste disposal.

Radioactivity Spill Prevention Radioactive Material Handling:

Radioactive materials must not be left unsecured in unoccupied laboratories.
If the authorized user or a trained radiation worker is not physically present in a lab, the radioactive material will be secured, radioactive waste will be deposited in designated receptacles, and the area decontaminated.

All radioactive materials will be disposed of through the Radiation Safety Officer.

Good housekeeping is required where radionuclides are used. Work areas must be clearly defined and uncluttered.

Work surfaces shall be covered to facilitate easy decontamination. Bench coverings shall be changed frequently, i.e., no less than weekly or whenever the covering is noticeably soiled, torn, or contaminated.

Locate work areas away from heavy traffic or doorways.

Labeling of Radioactive Materials:
Containers of radioactive materials for storage, processing, or use, shall be individually and conspicuously labeled "CAUTION - RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL". In addition, the label must specify the identity of the radioisotope, the estimated activity (amount), and the date.

Warning labels bearing the radiation symbol and/or words such as "radiation area", "radioactive", or "radioactive materials" should not be removed or effaced without specific release from the Radiation Safety Officer.

Transport of Radioactive Materials:
No radioactive materials or sources of radiation are to be transported on campus without the direct supervision of the Radiation Safety Officer or by anyone other than authorized users and their trained assistants.

Wherever possible, cartons, drums, and other containers used for transport of radioactive materials shall be re-used. All such containers shall be returned to the Radiation Safety Officer, who shall survey and wipe test the container and retain records of the results.

When moving radioactive solutions between approved locations, place the material within covered secondary containers.

When moving radioactive materials between non-connecting rooms, fluids must be in closed containers to prevent spills and solids must be completely enclosed. The exterior container must be free of contamination. The transfer must be made directly such that radioactive materials are not carried about more than necessary and are never left unattended. Hard beta and gamma sources must be adequately shielded.

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