Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Procedures

Response to a Chemical Spill

Research, Environmental Health and Safety   |   Approved May 14, 2015


Respond to a hazardous chemical material release or spill at a UMB laboratory facility.


Employees, students, or volunteers on campus in the vicinity of a chemical spill at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). 

Releases of hazardous substances that pose a significant threat to health and safety or that, by their very nature, require an emergency response regardless of the circumstances surrounding the release or the mitigating factors are emergency situations. The following definitions designate emergency situations:

  • The situation is unclear to the person causing or discovering the spill.
  • The release requires evacuation of persons.
  • The release involves or poses a threat of fire, suspected fire, explosion or other imminent danger; conditions that are Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH); high levels of exposure to toxic substances.
  • The person(s) in the work area is uncertain they can handle the severity of the hazard with the personal protective equipment (PPE) and response equipment that has been provided and/or the exposure limit could easily be exceeded.

Conversely, releases that do not pose significant safety or health hazards to person(s) in the immediate vicinity or to the person(s) cleaning up the material and do not have the potential to become emergencies within a short time frame are not emergency situations. The following situations are non-emergency situations:

  • The person causing or discovering the release understands the properties and can make an informed decision as to the exposure level.
  • The release can be appropriately cleaned by the lab personnel.
  • The materials are limited in quantity, exposure potential, or toxicity and present minor safety or health hazards to persons in the immediate work area or those assigned to clean up the activity.
  • Incidental releases of hazardous substances that are routinely cleaned up by EHS need not be considered an emergency. 

For more information on chemical spill cleanup procedures please refer to the Chemical Hygiene Plan.


First stop all work immediately and alert others in the area.  Staff involved in the decontamination and disposal area of the effected spill will wear the appropriate level of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

If there are questions about proper spill response techniques, call EHS at 410.706.7055 for assistance during business hours. If after hours, call Campus Police at 410-706-6882 and ask to notify the on-call EHS staff member.

Emergency Situation – Fire: The following steps are basic protocol for handling a fire or fire-related emergency situation in the laboratory:

  1. Pull the fire alarm
  2. Call 911
  3. Evacuate personnel from the area.
  4. Inform building emergency wardens or the building evacuation coordinator of the nature and location of the fire

Emergency Situation – Spill: If the spill is of high toxicity or flammability or you are unsure of how to proceed or is more than one liter, execute the following:

  1. Call EHS at 410-706-7055 for assistance during business hours. If after hours, call Campus Police at 410-706-6882 and ask to notify the on-call EHS staff member.
  2. Evacuate personnel from the spill area and alert occupants to the spill.
  3. Isolate the spill area and close doors to the room where the spill occurred
  4. Shut down equipment if possible
  5. Provide information on the nature and location of spill to emergency response personnel
  6. Evacuation of the building may be necessary if chemicals or contaminants could enter the air handling system of a building.

Attend to victims for a body or eye splash:

  1. Remove victim(s) from spill area to fresh air only if an attempt to rescue victim(s) does not present a danger to the rescuers.
  2. If contact with body:
    1. Remove contaminated clothing while under an emergency shower.
    2. Flood affected area with water for at least 15 minutes or longer if pain persists.
    3. Wash skin with mild soap and water - do not use neutralizing chemicals, unguents, creams, lotions or salves.
  3. If contact with eyes:
    1. Lead the victim(s) immediately to an emergency eye wash facility.
    2. Hold eye lids open.
    3. Flush eyes for at least 15 minutes or longer if pain persists.
  4. Report to your supervisor and file the appropriate first reports of injury, including any witness statements. Know the name of the chemical or substance involved. Have the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) available if possible.

Mercury Spills

  1. Evacuate personnel from the spill area and alert occupants to the spill
  2. Isolate the spill area and close doors to the room where the spill occurred
  3. Contact EHS at (410) 706-7055 to have a mercury spill cleaned up.

Non-Emergency Situation: If the spill is less than one liter and the chemical involved is of low toxicity and a low flammable hazard, handle it in the following manner:

  1. Choose the proper protective equipment.
    1. Always wear gloves and protective eye wear. Use additional protective equipment such as an apron, coveralls, or boots if necessary.
  2. Utilize absorbent materials (i.e., paper towels).
  3. Confine or contain spill.  
  4. Properly dispose of any contaminated equipment or waste.   
  5. Staff may still wish to contact EHS for further review.

Non-reactive spills:

  1. Cover liquid spills with absorbent and scoop into a plastic disposal bag.
  2. Sweep solid materials into a dust pan and place in a sealed container.
  3. Follow the University Hazardous Waste Disposal Procedures for disposal.

Reactive or potentially reactive spills:

  1. Cover liquid spills with absorbent and scoop into an appropriate disposal container.
  2. Wet mop dry substances to avoid spreading hazardous  dust, provided it is non-water reactive.
  3. If spilled chemical is a volatile solvent, transfer disposal bag to a hood for containment.
  4. Follow the University Hazardous Waste Disposal Procedures for disposal.
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