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During a Chemical Spill

Chemical Spill During Large

If There is Danger of Fire or Explosions

Immediately evacuate. Do not waste time collecting items or making phone calls. Once you are outside and safely away from danger, call 911 and report the emergency:

  • Your full name and the telephone number from which you are calling.
  • The nature and location of the emergency.
  • Your location – the address or building, the room number or floor, area or department.
  • What you know of the number of injured people and their injuries.

Do not hang up until the person answering the call ends the conversation. Responders may need more information. Stay upwind and away from the residence to avoid breathing fumes that may be toxic.

Toxic Poisoning

Recognize and respond to symptoms of toxic poisoning, such as:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Irritation of the eyes, skin, throat, or respiratory tract.
  • Changes in skin color.
  • Headache or blurred vision.
  • Dizziness.
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination.
  • Cramps or diarrhea.

If someone displays symptoms of poisoning or has been exposed to a potentially toxic household chemical, find any containers of the substance that are readily available. Labels may list ingredients or have other information that could help. Call the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Follow the emergency operator or dispatcher’s first-aid instructions carefully. The advice on labels may be out-of-date or inappropriate.
  • Do not try remedies by mouth unless advised to do so by a medical professional.

Discard clothing that may have been contaminated. Some chemicals may not wash out completely.

Hazardous Spills On-Campus

  • Radiation Safety: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, call 540-231-5364; after hours, call 911.
  • Hazardous Material Safety: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, call 540-231-2982 or 540-231-8758; after hours,call 911.
  • Biological Safety: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, call 540-231-5864 or 540-231-3361; after hours, call 911.

For more information, contact Environmental Health and Safety at 540-231-3600.

Chemical Spill at Work

Note: This guide focuses on spills of household chemicals. In the event of a chemical spill in the course of work at Virginia Tech, the following general guidelines are to be followed, but consult your Department or Environmental Health and Safety at 540-231-3600 to learn about procedures that may be more specific or detailed.

Individuals who cause a spill are responsible for prompt and proper clean-up. It is also their responsibility to have spill control and personal protective equipment appropriate for the chemicals being handled readily available.

  • Immediately alert area occupants and supervisor, and evacuate the area, if necessary.
  • If there is a fire or medical attention is needed, call 911.
  • Attend to any people who may be contaminated. Contaminated clothing must be removed immediately and the skin flushed with water for no less than fifteen minutes. Clothing must be laundered before reuse.
  • If a volatile, flammable material is spilled, immediately warn everyone, control sources of ignition, and ventilate the area.
  • Don personal protective equipment, as appropriate to the hazards. Refer to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or other references for information.
  • Consider the need for respiratory protection. The use of a respirator or self-contained breathing apparatus requires specialized training and medical surveillance. Never enter a contaminated atmosphere without protection or use a respirator without training. If respiratory protection is needed and no trained personnel are available, call 911. If respiratory protection is used, be sure there is another person outside the spill area in communication, in case of an emergency. If no one is available, contact Public Safety.
  • Using the chart below, determine the extent and type of spill. If the spill is large, if there has been a release to the environment or if there is no one knowledgeable about spill clean-up available, call 911.




Treatment Materials


up to 300 cc

chemical treatment or absorption

neutralization or absorption spill kit


300 cc - 5 liters


absorption spill kit


more than 5 liters

Contact EHSS

8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, call (540) 231-2982 or 231-8758; after hours, call 911

outside help


Protect floor drains or other means of environmental release. Spill socks and absorbents may be placed around drains, as needed. Contain and clean up the spill according to the table above.

  • Loose spill control materials should be distributed over the entire spill area, working from the outside, circling to the inside. This reduces the chance of splash or spread of the spilled chemical.
  • Bulk absorbents and many spill pillows do not work with hydrofluoric acid. Powersorb (by 3M) products and their equivalent will handle hydrofluoric acid. Specialized hydrofluoric acid kits also are available.
  • Many neutralizers for acids or bases have a color change indicator to show when neutralization is complete.

When spilled materials have been absorbed, use brush and scoop to place materials in an appropriate container. Polyethylene bags may be used for small spills. Five-gallon pails or 20-gallon drums with polyethylene liners may be appropriate for larger quantities. Complete a hazardous waste sticker, identifying the material as “Spill Debris” involving XYZ Chemical, and affix onto the container. Spill-control materials will probably need to be disposed of as hazardous waste. Contact your department or Environmental Health and Safety at 540-231-3600 for advice on storage and packaging for disposal. Decontaminate the surface where the spill occurred using a mild detergent and water, when appropriate.

Report all spills to your supervisor or the Principal Investigator.

For more information on chemical spills, see: