Review the EH&S Policy & Procedure 2-2 Laboratory Emergency Plan

To determine whether a spill is major (emergency response with clean up by outside staff) or minor (incidental release with clean up by lab staff), you need to know (1) the hazard(s) posed by the spilled chemical and (2) the spill's potential impact. Both these factors are, in large part, determined by the spill's size. The following information will help you determine whether you have a minor spill and can be cleaned up by the lab staff:

  • the type of chemical(s) spilled - are there any other hazards besides the chemical (biological or radioactive)?
  • the amount,
  • the hazardous characteristics or the spilled chemical(s) - is it a solid, powder, liquid or gas? Is it flammable, corrosive or toxic?
  • the location,
  • the proper method for cleaning up the spill,
  • the personal protective equipment available, and
  • the training of the laboratory's personnel

A chemical spill is not a health risk if it has a low toxicity (especially if it is not volatile or a dust), is not highly corrosive, and is not a strong oxidizer. Such spills may be considered "minor" only if physical damage or environmental factors are absent. If the spilled chemical's toxicity is unknown, treat the spill like a potential human health hazard by avoiding exposure and seeking outside assistance. Factors that may magnify a spill's impact and require emergency response (major spill) are:

  • the possibility that hazardous vapors or dusts might enter the building's ventilation system and be distributed to other areas;
  • the possibility that spilled liquids might flow into other areas, thus expanding the threat of harm, such as reaching ignition sources, exposing other people, damaging delicate equipment;
  • the presence of incompatible chemicals;
  • the proximity of classrooms or offices containing people who could be harmed by the spill's consequences; and
  • spills in sinks that might be connected to other sinks through the plumbing system.

A Major Spill is one in which the following occurs:

  1. The response comes from outside the immediate release area.
  2. The release requires evacuation of employees in the area.
  3. The release poses, or has the potential to pose, conditions that are immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH).
  4. The release poses a serious threat of fire or explosion (exceeds or has the potential to exceed the lower explosive limit or lower flammable limit).
  5. The release requires immediate attention because of imminent danger.
  6. The release may cause high levels of exposure to toxic substances.
  7. There is uncertainty that the employee in the work area can handle the severity of the hazard with the PPE and equipment that has been provided and the exposure limit could easily be exceeded.
  8. The situation is unclear, or data are lacking on important factors. The properties of hazardous substances, such as toxicity, volatility, flammability, explosiveness, corrosiveness, etc. as well as the particular circumstances of the release itself, such as quantity, confined space considerations, ventilation, etc. must be known and understood prior to response.

In addition to potential fire and explosion hazards, strong corrosives and oxidizers typically fall under the property damage category. A large-quantity release that threatens the environment is not a minor spill, but requires the attention of trained responders. If any hazards are present that would damage property or the environment, treat the spill as "large" or "major" and contact University Police at 911 from a campus phone (631) 632-3333 from cell phone.

A minor spill is:

  • Less than 1 gallon spill of a low toxicity or non flammable chemical or a material that has any NFPA/HMIS rating of 1 or 2;
  • A spill involving less than 20 cc/ml of a particularly hazardous chemical (carcinogen, reproductive hazard or acutely toxic), or chemical with any NFPA/HMIS rating or 3 or 4;
  • Blood and/or body fluids

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