Health, Safety, Security and Environment

Photo of the day: Chemical Spill Emergency Response

9 min read

Accidental release of chemicals can occur on campus at any time. A chemical release can result in either exposure to a person or as a spill contaminating work areas or the environment. There is a potential for the development of harmful effects depending on the chemical involved and the associated hazards.

The Photo of today provides general guidance for response to chemical exposure or a spill, however; if in doubt, STOP and call the emergency contact number.

Chemical Exposure to a Person

  • Remove a person from exposure, if you can safely do so. Avoid breathing the vapors of spilled substances.
  • Alert people in the immediate area to evacuate.
  • Call emergency contact numbers immediately and request emergency and medical responders.
    • Provide as much information known about the incident including specific location, nature, and extent of injuries, name, and quantity of chemicals involved, any control measures are taken, and possible health hazards associated with the spill.
    • Provide your name and phone number and remain available.
  • Use eyewash or safety showers (in an area away from the spill) to rinse chemicals off the contaminated person.
    • For exposure affecting small portions of the skin, immediately flush with flowing water for at least 15 minutes. If pain returns after 15 minutes of flushing, resume flushing the area.
    • For splashes in the eye, use eyewash and immediately flush for 15 minutes. Hold the eyelids away from the eyeball, moving the eye in all directions to wash thoroughly behind the eyelids.
    • For spills on clothes, quickly begin showering while removing all contaminated clothing, shoes, and jewelry. It may be necessary to cut clothes off in some instances to prevent contamination of the eyes. Contaminated clothes should be discarded or laundered separately from other clothing.
  • Consult the chemical safety data sheet (SDS) for any potential delayed effects. Keep the SDS with the victim.
  • Obtain medical evaluation and necessary treatment, if needed.
  • All injuries of this type must be reported properly.

Chemical Spill Response

Categories of Chemical Spills

The chart below is for liquid spills and the additional information below the chart will help determine the appropriate response to a chemical spill; however, it should not be taken as absolute, as some substances will be considerably more hazardous. Each spill should be judged individually for appropriate action.

CategorySizeResponseTreatment Materials
SmallLess 50 mlAbsorption or Chemical TreatmentPaper towels (if compatible), appropriate absorption spill kit, and/or neutralization
Small to Medium50 ml to 250 mlAbsorption or Chemical TreatmentAppropriate absorption spill kit and/or neutralization
Medium to Large250 ml to 2.5 litersAbsorptionAppropriate absorption spill kit
LargeMore than 2.5 litersEvacuate and Call 911Appropriate absorption spill kit and consider outside help to ensure nothing can enter stormwater drains.

In addition to this chart, there are three basic categories of chemical spills or release events. The following information should be used as guidance in the event of these types of spills.

1. Spills/Releases That Are Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH):

A spill/release that, in the opinion of the area supervisor or individual responsible for the chemical or area, poses an immediate health threat to the individual and/or other occupants in the building.  In this case, the following must be done:

  • Sound the fire alarm to notify others in the area for evacuation.
  • Call 911 from a safe location and provide the following information to the dispatcher:
    • Nature of emergency.
    • Chemical involved and quantity.
    • NMSU building name and room number or nearest building location if outdoors.
    • If calling from a cell phone, report location as NMSU campus.
  • Remain on the scene to meet response personnel and provide additional information.
2. Spills/Releases That Are Not IDLH But Require Technical Assistance:

This refers to a spill/release that an individual and/or a supervisor feel there is not an immediate health threat but requires technical assistance for proper clean-up.  In the event any of the following statements are a factor, contact EHS&RM at (575) 646-3327 or after hours, contact the NMSU Police Department at (575) 646-3311.

  • The individual is not familiar with the hazards of the material and not comfortable performing clean-up.
  • The individual does not have the proper training to perform clean-up.
  • Equipment needed for clean-up is not available.
3. Spill/Releases That Can Be Cleaned Up By Area Personnel:

This refers to a spill/release that an individual and/or a supervisor feel that there is not an immediate health threat and safe for work area personnel to clean-up.  Guidelines include the following:

  • The individual is thoroughly familiar with the hazards of the material. (Reference SDS)
  • The individual has been trained to deal with spills/releases of the size in question.
  • The individual has the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed for spill clean-up.
  • The appropriate absorbent/neutralizers are readily available.
  • Take appropriate steps to confine and limit the spill without risk.
  • Clean-up spill using appropriate equipment and procedures.
  • It is essential that all spill clean-up waste is properly disposed of:
    • Do not place in or around the regular trash.
    • Place the spill clean-up waste in a closed container and attach an NMSU Waste/Material Tracking Form or a label with contents.
    • Contact EH&S for waste pick-up.


Hazardous chemical spills must be dealt with promptly, however, due to the range and quantities of chemicals used within laboratories and shops of NMSU, spill response procedures must be clearly defined before work commences. Knowledge and preparedness can minimize potential problems and enhance personnel’s ability to deal with routine spills effectively. Personnel should be instructed on the following in the event of a spill:

  1. Location and knowledge of the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for the chemicals used and stored in the work area.
  2. The location of emergency equipment (fire extinguishers, safety shower, and eyewash).
  3. The location of appropriate personal protective equipment and spill control equipment (see below for Spill Kit contents).
  4. The location of available exits.
  5. The location and content of department Chemical Hygiene Plan (applicable to laboratories).
  6. When and who a spill shall be reported to.
  7. Name and phone number of individual responsible for the work area.

Spill Material Kits

EH&S recommends that spill materials be situated within easy reach of the chemical storage and use areas. A spill kit should contain appropriate absorbent, adsorbent, neutralizers, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Please call EHS&RM to request a spill kit for small spills.

(learn more:prevention-tips-to-reduce-the-incidence-of-chemical-spills/)

Items in a small NMSU spill kit are as follows:

Spill Kit Contents
Chemically resistant glovesSmall broom & dustpan
Chemically resistant bootiesAbsorbent pads
Safety gogglesSmall plastic spatula
Zip-lock baggies5-gallon bucket with lid
Drum linersNMSU Hazardous Spill Response Procedure
Baking SodaNMSU Waste Tracking Form
VermiculiteNMSU Chemical Spill Report Form

Spill Reporting Procedures

A chemical spill report (Report Form) must be completed and forwarded to EHS&RM whenever a hazardous chemical spill occurred that impacted adjoining work areas or resulted in a release to the environment.  The information will be used by workers and EHS&RM to assist in the determination of the root cause of the spill and to help identify preventative actions that could be implemented to avoid future spills or improve spill response activities.  This report is in addition to injury reporting for exposed personnel.

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Photo of the day: Chemical Spill Emergency Response

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