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Chemical Spills and Fires

Manageable Spill
Unmanageable Spill
Laboratory Fire
Laboratory Spill Kit Types and Ordering Information

In the event of a chemical spill, laboratory staff must know how to respond safely and promptly.  The nature and size of the spill will determine whether or not lab staff can safely respond using their own equipment and with minimal outside assistance. 
“Manageable spills” are spills that do not spread rapidly, do not seriously endanger people or environment, and can be managed safely by lab personnel familiar with the hazardous properties of the spilled material, and without the assistance of EH&S personnel. All other spills are considered unmanageable spills.
To determine if you have a manageable spill, ask yourself:

  • Do you know what chemical was spilled?
  • Do you have access to a SDS for the spilled chemical?
  • Do you have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect yourself from the spill hazards?
  • Do you have the necessary materials to clean up the spill?
  • Are you trained to use the spill control kit for this chemical?  In the event of any spill or fire in your laboratory, including one you have successfully handled yourself, always notify EH&S

Morningside Campus:

(212) 854-8749 (9am-5pm weekdays)
or
(212) 854-5555 (all other times; 24 hours/7 days)

CUMC:

(212) 305-6780 (9am-5pm weekdays)
or
(212) 305-7979 (all other times; 24 hours/7 days)

Manageable Chemical Spill Procedure:

  • Attend to any persons contaminated by chemicals by removing contaminated clothing, and when feasible, flush the affected body area with water. Employees or students in need of medical attention should be referred to:

    • Morningside: Student Health Services (John Jay Hall, 2nd Floor; 519 W 114th St.) during regular business hours, or the Saint Luke’s Hospital Emergency Room (1111 Amsterdam Avenue at 114th Street).

    • CUMC: Workforce Health and Safety (WHS) located on Harkness Pavilion one South (212)305-7580 between 8am-4pm and the NYPH Emergency Room at all other times. Affected students are to report to Student Health Services located on 60 Haven Avenue (212)305-3400.

  • Alert people in the immediate area. Avoid breathing vapors and quickly determine what chemical and the quantity of material have been spilled. Notify the laboratory supervisor/manager and/or principal investigator.

  • Consult material safety data sheet (SDS) for hazardous properties, incompatibilities, and specific instructions for spill response; the following are general guidelines.

  • Don appropriate protective equipment (safety glasses, gloves, long sleeve lab coat)

  • If the spill involves a flammable liquid, turn off all ignition and heat sources.

Acids Only

1) Slowly apply neutralizer to the outer edges of the spill, working inward, and wait for the neutralization reaction to cease.
2) Using the dust pan and broom, sweep debris and place it into the hazardous waste bag.
3) Check pH of the area. If pH is still acidic, repeat the above two steps.
4) Remove any residue with a wet paper towel and mild soap.
5) Dispose pads and paper towels into hazardous waste bag.
6) Dispose contaminated personal protective equipment (i.e. gloves) and dust pan and broom into hazardous waste bag.
7) Seal bag with tape and attach a completed chemical/hazardous waste label on the bag.
8) Submit for a chemical/hazardous waste pickup request as soon as possible at
http://vesta.cumc.columbia.edu/ehs/wastepickup/

Other Liquids (i.e. Solvents/Flammables)

1) Slowly apply the absorbent to the outer edges of the spill, working inward, and wait until the liquid is absorbed.
2) Using the dust pan and broom, sweep debris and place it into the hazardous waste bag.
3) Remove any residue with wet paper towel and mild soap.
4) Dispose pad and paper towels into hazardous waste bag.
5) Dispose contaminated personal protective equipment (i.e. gloves) and dust pan and broom into hazardous waste bag.
6) Seal bag with tape and attach a completed chemical/hazardous waste label on the bag.
7) Submit for a chemical/hazardous waste pickup request as soon as possible at http://vesta.cumc.columbia.edu/ehs/wastepickup/


Once any injuries and/or life safety concerns have been completely addressed, an incident form should be completed and filed with EH&S.

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Unmanageable Chemical Spill Procedure:

  • Attend to any persons contaminated by chemicals by removing contaminated clothing, and when feasible, flush the affected body area with water. Employees or students in need of medical attention should be referred to:

    • Morningside: the Saint Luke’s Hospital Emergency Room (1111 Amsterdam Avenue at 114th Street). Affected students are to report to Student Health Services located 519 W 114th St.

    • CUMC: Workforce Health & Safety located on Harkness Pavilion one South (212)305-7580 between 8am-4pm and the NYPH Emergency Room at all other times. Affected students are to report to Student Health Services located on 60 Haven Avenue (212) 305-3400.

  • Alert people in the immediate area. Avoid breathing vapors and quickly determine what chemical and the quantity of material, if it can be done safely, has been spilled. Notify the laboratory supervisor and/or principal investigator.

  • ConsultSDS for hazardous properties, incompatibilities, and don appropriate protective equipment (safety glasses, gloves, long sleeve lab coat)

  • If the spill involves a flammable liquid, turn off all ignition and heat sources.

  • Once any injuries and/or life safety concerns have been completely addressed, an incident form should be completed and filed with EH&S.

Evacuate all personnel and close all doors leading to affected area. Keep all personnel away from affected area until EH&S can evaluate the situation. · Call EH&S (212)854-8749 at MS or (212)305-6780 at CUMC for instructions between 9am-5pm weekdays and Security (212)854-5555 at MS or (212)305-7979 at CUMC at all other times. Be prepared to give the chemical name, volume spilled, location (building and room), and any other pertinent information. Have a person knowledgeable of the incident and laboratory available to provide information to emergency personnel.

In the event that Custodial, Maintenance, or Security personnel discover a spill when no laboratory personnel are present, please notify a supervisor immediately and follow the above procedures for handling unmanageable spills.

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Chemical Fires in Laboratories:

  • In the event of a fire transmit building fire alarm immediately.

  • Alert and evacuate all personnel in the immediate area.

  • Close all doors leading to the affected area and secure area until safety personnel arrive to evaluate the situation. Try to determine which material has exploded.

  • Call EH&S (212)854-8749 at MS or (212)305-6780 at CUMC for instructions between 9am-5pm weekdays and Security (212)854-5555 at MS or (212)305-7979 at CUMC at all other times. Be prepared to give the chemical name, location (building and room), and any other pertinent information.

  • If the spill involves a flammable liquid, turn off all ignition and heat sources.

  • Attend to any persons contaminated by chemicals by removing contaminated clothing, and when feasible, flush the affected body area with water. An incident form should be completed and the employee referred to:

    • MS: the Saint Luke’s Hospital Emergency Room (1111 Amsterdam Avenue at 114th Street). Affected students are to report to Student Health Services located 519 W 114th St.

    • CUMC: CPC Occupational Health Services (OHS) located on Harkness Pavilion one South (212)305-7580 between 8am-4pm and the NYPH Emergency Room at all other times. Affected students are to report to Student Health Services located on 60 Haven Avenue (212)305-3400.

  • Have a person knowledgeable of the incident and laboratory available to provide information to emergency personnel.

  • Remember – “Pull the Pin, Call It In” – In the event of any laboratory fire or fire extinguisher discharge, no matter how small, contact EH&S.  Extinguishers must be replaced after discharge to prevent depressurization.

  • For additional Fire Safety information, please see the Fire Safety Program homepage.

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Spill Kits
Labs are expected to respond to manageable spills and are required to maintain appropriate response materials to do so.  Each lab must stock a spill kit containing neutralizers or absorbent materials appropriate for each hazard class of materials present in the lab.  For example, labs using or storing acids must stock acid neutralizing material in their spill kit. 
For additional information on the purchase/assembly of a spill kit, please see the link below:

Please note, at the Morningside Campus, wall-mounted spill kits are available in all laboratory buildings for use by laboratory staff in the event of a manageable chemical spill. 

Laboratory Spill Kit Ordering Information

Columbia University laboratories are required to maintain supplies of materials capable of treating manageable spills of all chemical hazard classes present in the lab.  Spill response kits can be assembled based on the chart below, or ordered commercially, using the links that follow.


Type of Chemical / Hazard Class
Neutralizing Agent / Clean-up Supplies
Acid Sodium Bicarbonate
Bases Citric Acid
Organic Solvents Absorbent pads; charcoal
Mercury Amalgam (mercury-absorbing) sponges
Metals* (e.g., sodium) Sand, Class-D fire extinguisher
Other chemicals Absorb with inert absorbent material

*Please contact EH&S for emergency response information for other pyrophoric or reactive materials
The following are examples of commercially-available spill response materials.  This list is non-comprehensive.  Additional materials are easily found by visiting the web sites of laboratory supply vendors and typing “laboratory spill kit” in those pages’ search boxes.

Fisher Scientific

Lab Safety Supply

VWR

Alternatively, labs may purchase and maintain a supply of “universal” spill media, capable of handling spills of nearly all chemicals.  Materials of this type are available from the outlets listed above.  If universal absorbent is used to clean up an acid or base spill, any remain surface residue must be neutralized afterwards.

Please contact EH&S for additional information on ordering chemical spill kits, or with any other questions.

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Spill Control Kit Reference Guide – Morningside Campus

New chemical spill control kits have been installed throughout the Morningside campus on all laboratory floors. The kits are wall-mounted, and are designed to handle small quantities of most acids, solvents, and weak caustics. The kits are sealed by tamper-proof tape to deter pilfering and to indicate if the kit has been opened. If you must use the kit, or if it is opened for any reason, please report this to EH&S so that the contents can be replenished.

This Kit is not designed for Hydrofluoric Acid, Radioactive Material, or Mercury Spills. 
Please see the following links for spills of these materials –

 EH&S spill kits should only be used for relatively small, manageable spills.

For an unmanageable spill, Call EH&S at (212) 854-8749 or Public Safety after hours at (212) 854-5555.

To decide if you have a manageable spill, ask yourself:

  • Do you know what chemical was spilled?
  • Do you have access to aSDS for the spilled chemical?
  • Do you have the necessary materials to clean up the spill
  • Are you trained to use the spill control kit for this chemical?

If you answered NO to any of the above questions or need assistance with the spill cleanup, evacuate and secure the area and Call EH&S at (212) 854-8749 or Public Safety after hours at (212) 854-5555.

Clean up techniques for manageable spills

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