Chemical Spills

Spills of toxic and hazardous chemicals require prompt actions by laboratory group members in order to control chemical exposures to personnel and to minimize impacts to the environment and property. Immediate response and quick cleanup are imperative.

Spill Guidance

Spills can be avoided by following these general practices and guidelines:

  • Eliminate clutter, practice good housekeeping. Dispose of hazardous wastes and excess chemicals in a timely manner.
  • Perform a procedure review. Refer to the SDS and familiarize yourself with the chemical you’re working with.
  • Store liquid in secondary containment bins and keep containers closed when not in use.
  • Use plastic coated or plastic containers whenever possible.

Spill Reporting

All significant (greater than 1 liter of liquid) chemical spills must be reported to EH&S and/or UB Police. EH&S will ensure individual department heads and/or chairs are notified.

Contacts for Police, Fire, Suspicious Behavior or Medical Emergencies
  • For North & South and Downtown Campuses Call: 645- 2222 (UB Police) 
  • For All Other Off Campus UB Locations Call 911 (Buffalo Police) 

Small routine spills can be handled by lab personnel provided they have been trained in the use of a spill kit and feel comfortable using one. Never attempt to clean a spill if you feel it is beyond the capability of the spill kit. EH&S offers training on the use of spill kits as part of our Laboratory Safety Training. Spill kits are available for a nominal fee through the EH&S office.

Spill Kits

If your lab does not have a Spill Kit or you do not feel comfortable cleaning up a small spill, contact EH&S at 831-3301 for assistance.

Large Spills

Steps to Take When a Large Spill Occurs (greater than 1 Liter): 

  • If a large spill occurs, remove people from the area, providing them with assistance if required. If there are any injuries, see to them and provide first aid if you are certified to do so. Report all significant injuries to the appropriate contact shown in the box to the right. Contact EH&S for follow-up accident investigation. If anyone has been exposed to the chemical, get him or her immediately to a nearby safety shower or eyewash station.
  • As you leave the lab, close the door behind you and direct people to the nearest fire exit. Notify others from adjoining labs and offices of the spill and keep people away from the area.
  • Report the spill to one of the emergency contacts shown in the box to the right - have someone else do it for you if necessary. Be prepared to give them your name, phone number, location, nature and amount of the spill, injuries, etc.
  • Remain in area to direct first responders to the spill.
  • If the area of the spill reaches outside your lab and into a public area and vapors from the spilled chemical threaten the safety of others, pull the fire alarm and evacuate the building.

Small Spills

Steps to Take When a Small Spill Occurs (less than 1 Liter):

  • Remove people from the area providing them with assistance if required. If there are any injuries, see to them and provide first aid if you are certified to do so. Report any injuries to UB Police immediately! If anyone has been exposed to the chemical, get him or her immediately to a nearby safety shower or eyewash station.
  • As you leave the lab, close the door behind you and direct people to the nearest fire exit. Notify others from adjoining labs and offices of the spill and keep people away from the area.
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, proceed to clean up the spill using the spill kit located in your lab. The kit contains: o One Tyvek suit and latex booties, neoprene gloves, safety goggles o 10 universal spill pads o Two empty trash bags, cable ties and hazardous waste labels • Once you have cleaned up the spill, place all clean up residuals (spill pads, paper towels, PPE, etc.) in the trash bag.

Attach a hazardous waste label, and contact EH&S for pickup.

Inform EH&S about the spill. Provide as much information as you can about the nature of the chemical and how much was spilled, location of the spill, etc.

EH&S will replace the contents of your spill kit at no charge.

Mercury Use and Spill Cleanup

Mercury is found in many areas of the campus in items and devices such as thermometers, manometers, switches, etc. Metallic mercury and mercury compounds are very hazardous; unwanted and spilled materials are regulated as hazardous wastes. Never throw any residual material such as spilled mercury or glass from a broken thermometer or other device into the trash. Metallic mercury must never be poured down the drain. This is against Federal and State environmental regulations. All mercury spills must be cleaned up immediately; most spills do not pose a high risk so long as it can be contained and it has not contaminated anyone.

Mercury can be difficult to handle because it is liquid at room temperature and volatile. It also tends to break up into very small droplets that are difficult to see and pick up. It can remain in cracks and crevices and give off toxic vapors for years until the mercury evaporates.

Preventing Mercury Spills

Mercury spills can be prevented by:

  • Avoiding the use of mercury containing devices where practical. Substitute environmentally safe red liquid (alcohol) thermometers for mercury containing thermometers and use electronic devices to measure temperature and pressure. EH&S will collect unwanted mercury thermometers and devices so they may be properly disposed.
  • If you must use mercury-containing devices, use basins or other types of secondary containment devices beneath all mercury containing devices to contain any spilled mercury.

Small Mercury Spill

In the case of a small mercury spill, such as the amount present in a standard thermometer, you may, in some cases, be able to clean up the spill yourself. Whether you choose to do this is dependent on how the metallic mercury disperses itself. If it remains in a few larger “blobs” or puddles, then you may proceed. However, if it disperses into many very small droplets or is spilled on to a porous surface like carpeting, do not attempt to clean it up. Contact EH&S immediately so that the proper equipment and expertise is used to completely remove all the mercury from your area.

If you have a small mercury spill AND it has not broken up into many small droplets you may proceed to clean up the spill as follows:

  • Move others away from the affected area.
  • Do not walk through puddles or droplets. This will only spread the mercury contamination to other areas.
  • Make certain you wear the proper PPE for this procedure. If you have either a EH&S obtained spill kit or a specialized mercury spill cleanup kit, proceed to clean up the mercury. You may use 3 x 5 cards or scrap cardboard to “herd” the material into a larger blob or bead as necessary. This will make it easier to collect.
  • Do not use an ordinary vacuum cleaner to clean up the mercury. These will only put mercury vapor into the air and increase exposure. Specialized commercial HEPA vacuums, which EH&S possesses, are the only ones to be used.
  • Once collected, place everything including broken glassware, mercury, cardboard, etc. into a double zip lock bag or sealable container. Place a hazardous waste label on the bag.
  • Inform EH&S about the spill. EH&S will determine if any further action is required including monitoring for mercury vapor.
  • If anyone has been exposed to the mercury, notify EH&S at once. Any articles of contaminated clothing will be collected and properly disposed by EH&S.

Large Mercury Spill

For larger mercury spills or if you do not wish to clean up the spill:

  • Move others away from the affected area.
  • Do not walk through puddles or droplets. This will only spread the mercury contamination to other areas.
  • Contact EH&S. We will respond with a specialized HEPA mercury vacuum to collect all the mercury. Your assistance may be required to identify areas where the spill occurred.
  • Notify EH&S if anyone has been exposed to the mercury.

Once the cleanup has been completed, EH&S may perform sample monitoring for the presence of mercury vapor in your area.

Head Shot of Anthony Oswald Hazardous Materials Manager.

Anthony Oswald

Laboratory Safety Manager; Chemical Hygiene Officer

Environment, Health & Safety

Phone: 716-829-5681

Email: acoswald@buffalo.edu