Safety & Lab Tips

Spills

Handling spills

Spills pose a danger to everyone in the lab (and especially to the custodians who clean the labs each evening). You must take responsibility for all of your spills. ‘Responsibility’ includes:

  • determining the type of spill
  • performing a chemically appropriate clean-up
  • keeping other people from entering the spill zone until you have completed the clean-up (especially important for broken glass and mercury; these travel far when broken or spilled)
  • notifying your instructor (especially important for hazardous substances, like spilled mercury)

The on-line Chemistry Safety Manual contains basic instructions for handling acid, base, and mercury spills (section 3.3, p. 18 – Dealing with Accidents), and for disposal of broken glass (section 3.4, p. 19 – Waste Disposal). Also see Padias p. 4 for more information on disposal procedures.

Organic compounds. Spilled organics present a special problem because these substances vary in volatility, odor, aqueous solubility, reactivity, flammability, and health impacts.

Solids can generally be swept up and discarded in the organic waste. (Traces of solid might be collected with a damp piece of paper and discarded, paper and all.)

Liquids are more challenging. If a small amount of a volatile liquid (say, a low boiling solvent) is spilled in the hood, no special action is necessary or possible; most of the liquid will evaporate before you can clean it up. Larger spills, and spills that occur outside a fume hood, should be treated with adsorbents (stored around the lab in “spill kits”). Consult the spill kit for instructions regarding how to apply the adsorbent to the spill, and how to clean up, label, and discard the used adsorbent.