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Environmental Health & Safety
Hazardous Waste Management Manual - Spill Procedures



Accidental release of chemicals occasionally occurs as a result of spills, leaks, etc. When spills happen there is a potential for the development of harmful effects depending on the chemical involved and the associated hazards. Contingency planning can minimize potential problems and enhance personnel's ability to deal with routine spills effectively. The hazardous chemical spill procedues in the emergency procedures give spill response for three main scenarios.  Also see NMSU Lab Safety Guide , Spill Control Plan (info & signage), and Emergency Action Plan under NMSU Safety Policies.



Prior to commencing work in the laboratory, all laboratory personnel should be instructed on what to do in case of emergency. Such instruction or training should include at a minimum the following:


  • How to report a fire, injury, chemical spill or other emergency.

  • The location of emergency equipment such as safety showers and eyewashes.

  • The location of fire extinguishers and spill control equipment.

  • The locations of all available exits for evacuation.

  • The location and contents of the department's Chemical Hygiene Plan and NMSU Lab Safety Guide.

  • Names and phone numbers of individuals responsible for the laboratory or workshop. Such information should be posted on or by the laboratory door.



Each work area where hazardous substances are used should have a spill plan. Experiments and research projects should always be designed to minimize the possibility of an accidental release of hazardous substances.


The following are provided for your use in handling common small spills, i.e. not immediately dangerous to life and health.   These are general guidelines, however, they should be customized to meet the needs of the individual laboratory or operation:

  • Notify other personnel in the immediate area about the spill and if necessary, evacuate the area.

  • In case of injury or potential exposure, attend to victim(s) immediately and if necessary, request help.

  • Take appropriate steps to confine and limit the spill if this can be done without risk of injury or contamination.

  • Clean up spill using appropriate procedures. Dispose of spill clean up debris properly according to procedures outlined in this manual.



Personnel working with hazardous substances should be familiar with the properties (physical, chemical and toxicological) of such substances prior to commencing work. The necessary safety equipment, protective clothing and spill control materials should be readily available in the work area. All areas in which hazardous substances are used should have spill kits to deal with the potential hazards of the substances being used.

A typical spill control kits might include:

  • Spill control pillows. These are commercially available and can be used to absorb solvents, acids, alkalis, but not hydrogen fluoride.

  • Inert absorbents such as vermiculite, clay, sand, kitty litter and oil-dri.

  • Neutralizing agents for acid spills such as sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate.

  • Neutralizing agents for alkali spills such as sodium bisulfate or citric acid.

  • Plastic scoops and other equipment such as brooms, pails, bags, dust pans, etc., as appropriate.

  • Appropriate warnings, barricade tapes and protection against slips or falls on wet floor during and after clean up episodes.

These items could easily be packaged in one or more 5-gallon polyethylene buckets which can serve as a spill debris containers. For more information, call EH&S  at 646-3327.



In case of injury or potential exposure, attend to victim(s) immediately as outlined below:

  • For spills affecting small portions of skin, immediately flush with flowing water for at least 15 minutes. If no visible burn exists, wash with warm water and soap, removing any jewelry

  • For spills on clothes, don't attempt to wipe the clothes. Quickly begin showering while removing all contaminated clothing, shoes and jewelry. It may be necessary to cut the clothes off in some instances to prevent contamination of the eyes.

  • Do not use creams, lotions or salves.

  • Avoid breathing the vapors of spilled substances.

  • Contaminated clothes should be discarded or laundered separately from other clothing.

  • For splashes into the eye, immediately flush with tepid potable water for at least 15 minutes. Hold the eyelids away from the eyeball, moving eye in all directions to wash thoroughly behind the eyelids. Use eyewash for this purpose.

  • In all cases, seek medical attention: Dial 911 for emergency response.
    • Students: For follow-up treatment - You should contact the Student Health Center at intersection of Stewart and Breland Drive
    • Employees: As soon as possible you should contact the Employee Health Center in the Gensis Complex on Research Drive (see map)
  • Also see the first aid section in the Lab Safety Guide



Spill cleanup procedures vary depending on the spill location, the spill amount and physical properties, the degree and type of toxicity and the level of training of individuals involved. The hazardous chemical spill procedues in the emergency procedures give spill response for three main scenarios. The following are general guidelines for handling common small spills, i.e. not IDLH:

  • Low flammability, volatility, and /or toxicity substances

This group includes inorganic acids (sulfuric, nitric) and bases (sodium and potassium hydroxide). Absorption with an absorbent and appropriate disposal is recommended. The spilled substances may be neutralized with materials such as sodium bisulfate (for alkalis) and sodium carbonate or bicarbonate (for acids).

  • Flammable liquids

This category includes petroleum ether, hexane, pentane, diethyl ether, dimethoxyethane and tetrahydrofuran to mention a few. Other personnel in the area should be alerted, all flames extinguished and any spark-producing equipment turned off. The spilled substance should be soaked up using absorbent material as quickly as possible. Spill debris should be sealed properly and disposed of through EH&S .

  • Highly toxic substances

EH&S should be notified whenever a highly toxic substance spill occurs. Also, personnel in the area should be notified. Consult the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for appropriate or recommended cleanup procedures and consult with appropriate EH&S staff for assistance and/or additional information.

Appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, lab coats, goggles, aprons and if necessary, shoe coverings should be worn during any spill clean up event. Depending on the substance spilled, a respirator may be necessary. Individuals requiring the use of respirators must by regulation undergo special training and obtain medical clearance prior to respirator use. Contact EH&S at 646-3327 for more information.




In the event of a large chemical release (a volume which exceeds the capacity of a standard cleanup kit), a situation which may be immediately dangerous to life and health, or where the readily available personal protective equipment (PPE) is inadequate to ensure worker safety, the following measures must be followed:

  • Notify other personnel about the spill and evacuate the area. In case of injury or exposure, immediately attempt to remove or protect victim(s) immediately if this can be done without risk of injury or contamination, if need request help  .

  • Move to a safe area and dial 911 to report the emergency.

  • If the danger could or does involve the area beyond the spill or room,

    • pull fire alarm (or safety alarms if applicable).
    • evacuate the building and secure entrances.
  • The NMSU Fire Section will respond to all chemical emergencies at NMSU



If hazardous or regulated materials are spilled outside of buildings or unintentionally released to the environment via a sewer or fume hood:

  • Contact EH&S at 646-3327 to determine if the chemical release is subject to special regulatory reporting requirements.

  • Be prepared to provide the

    • name of the chemical(s) involved,
    • quantities released and
    • approximate time of the incident.
  • EH&S will contact the appropriate regulatory agencies and initiate reporting if necessary



Because metallic mercury (Hg) is widely used in laboratory instruments and mercury compounds are used in many laboratory experiments, it is one of the most frequently spilled materials. Mercury must be used and handled with care since it is a subtle poison with cumulative effects not easily reversed.

Metallic mercury and its compounds can be absorbed into the body by inhalation, ingestion or contact with the skin. If spills are frequent and mercury is added to the ambient air level, the combined concentration may reach or exceed toxic limits.  The appendices includes a list of common mercury compounds.

EH&S provides mercury spill cleanup and offers assistance in ensuring a safe environment whenever spills of acutely toxic substances are involved. This assistance may include but is not limited to initial entry with self-contained breathing apparatus, pre-entry monitoring, post-clean up monitoring, etc.   EH&S is to be notified in all spill involving Mercury or other highly toxic materials.  Also see Emergency action spill procedures for Mercury



Mercury spills can be avoided by using supplies and equipment which do not contain mercury. EH&S  recommends that all researchers seek alternatives to mercury use. However, if mercury or mercury-containing equipment must be used, proper handling is essential to preventing spills and maintaining a healthful working environment. Use the following guidelines when handling mercury:

  • Keep mercury containers closed and stored in secondary containers in a well-ventilated area.

  • Transfer mercury from one container to another in a hood over a tray or pan to confine any spills.

  • Provide mercury manometers and other mercury containing equipment with spill control and containment devices such as trays or pans.

  • Move instruments or apparatus containing mercury in an enameled or plastic tray or pan that can be cleaned easily and is large enough to contain the mercury.



Every effort should be made to prevent spills of metallic mercury since the substance is extremely difficult and time consuming to clean up. Globules can get into cracks and crevices, under table legs, under and into equipment. When a spill does occur, the following procedures are to be used. 


  • Notify people in the immediate area that a mercury spill has occurred and isolate the area to avoid more extensive contamination by tracking.
  • If the spill occurred on the floor, determine the extent of the area and mark the boundary of the spill.
  • Call the EH&S office for cleanup and removal. It is preferred that the lab or spill area be evacuated until the spill is removed.
  • Always thoroughly wash hands, arms and face several times after working around mercury areas.

EH&S Cleanup Procedure

  • EH&S has a mercury vacuum cleaner for larger spills such as those involving a manometer or larger instrument. Do not use a standard vacuum cleaner to pick up mercury.
  • The preferred method of spill cleanup is to collect the mercury because elemental mercury can be recycled. Push pools and globules of mercury together and collect by suction using an aspirator bulb or a vacuum device made from a filtering flask, a rubber stopper and several pieces of flexible glass tubing.
  • The use of mercury sponges, sulfur powder or zinc powder to clean up spills is discouraged. Amalgamated mercury cannot be recycled and is expensive to dispose of.
  • Metallic mercury from spills, broken thermometers or other equipment, and contaminated mercury from laboratory activities should be contained in thick-walled, high-density polyethylene bottles.  Place any discarded rags, sponges, shoe covers and other debris from cleanup activities in a sealed plastic bag for pick up by EH&S .
  • After the cleanup of a spill involving a significant quantity of mercury, EH&S will monitor the area and cleanup operation with a mercury-vapor analyzer.


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