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Biological Spills: Clean-up Procedures

Spill Clean-up Materials

Laboratories using infectious materials, including recombinant microorganisms must develop spill response plans addressing foreseeable occurrences. The following materials should be assembled in one place in laboratories using infectious materials; all personnel must know of the location.

  • disinfectant solution*
  • forceps, tongs, broom, dust pan
  • personal protective equipment (PPE): safety glasses, goggles, or face shield, utility gloves, wrap-around lab coat, shoe covers (optional)
  • 'biohazard' bag, sharps container
  • paper towels or other absorbent

*A 1/10 dilution of household bleach, prepared fresh daily is effective in most situations; contact EH&S for more information about selection of disinfectants, particularly for any organisms suspected of being atypical in their sensitivity to disinfectants.

Personal exposure takes priority over clean up. 

If you are exposed, immediately remove contaminated clothing and other protective equipment and wash affected areas with soap and water.  If medical follow-up is warranted it should be sought immediately.

Laboratory Spill Clean-up Procedures

Spills involving microorganisms requiring BL-1 or BL-2 (low to moderate risk agents) containment
* As with wild type microorganisms, those containing recombinant DNA are assigned a biological safety level.  Clean-ups must proceed according to the guidance for the relevant biological safety level.

  • Alert people in immediate area.
  • Put on protective equipment.
  • Cover an area twice the size of the spill with disinfectant soaked-paper towels. Or, surround spill with dry disinfectant as per label directions.
  • Allow a 20 minute contact period.
  • Wipe down any contaminated stationary equipment or furniture with disinfectant.
  • Use forceps, tongs, or broom to remove broken glass and other items; place in sharps container or red bag.
  • Remove towels and re-clean area with disinfectant solution.
  • Decontaminate (autoclave, chemical treatment) reusable clean-up items and other reusable equipment.
  • Inform laboratory personnel when the clean-up is complete

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Spills involving microorganisms, including recombinant microorganisms,   requiring BL-3 (risk of serious disease via inhalation exposure) containment.

  • Alert personnel in the area to hold their breath, leave the room, and close     the door.
  • Notify Public Safety and provide a phone number where you can be reached.  Instruct them to contact EH&S. 
  • Wait thirty minutes to allow airborne organisms to settle.
  • Collect all needed spill response supplies;  don PPE for BSL-3 work, including a respirator*.
  • Return to lab and clean-up as per directions in BSL-2 section above. 
  • Autoclave all spill-related materials and then dispose in appropriate RMW container.

*WARNING-By definition, BSL-3 organisms are capable of transmission via inhalation.   Laboratories working at BSL-3 must develop and periodically review a spill response plan and insure that all personnel are trained in its implementation.   It will be necessary to wear a respirator during such a response.  Respirator use is covered by detailed Federal regulations; contact EH&S for details about respiratory protection and spill-response training.  Respirators may also be required for some activities in a BSL-3 lab, when containment devices such as BSCs cannot be used.
Procedures for BL-1 and BL-2 laboratories should incorporate a degree of flexibility. One could safely abridge the procedures above if 1 ml. were spilled over a small bench top area. However, dropping 50 ml. of culture on the floor clearly necessitates the more detailed procedure

Spills inside a Biological Safety Cabinet

  • Keep the cabinet running. 
    Clean-up as per directions above, making sure to wipe down back and side walls of cabinet.
  • If material has spilled into the catch basin beneath the work surface, add a volume of disinfectant equal to the quantity in the basin, wait 20 minutes, and absorb with paper towels.
  • After completion, allow cabinet to run for ten minutes before resuming work.

 Spills inside a centrifuge

  • Shut centrifuge off and do not open the lid for 20 minutes to allow aerosols to settle.
  • Put on PPE.
  • Use a squeeze bottle to apply disinfectant to all contaminated surfaces within the chamber, taking care to minimize splashing.
  • Allow 20 minute contact period and then complete clean-up of the chamber.
  • Remove buckets and rotors to nearest Biological Safety Cabinet; disinfect and clean as per manufacturer's instructions.

Spills Outside the Laboratory

  • Viable organisms should only leave the laboratory in a well sealed primary (inner) and secondary (outer) container with a closable top. A test-tube rack inside a tray is not acceptable.
  • The exterior of the secondary container should be wiped down with disinfectant prior to leaving the laboratory so that it can be transported without wearing gloves.
  • Carry paper towels and if a spill occurs use the towels to cover the spill but do not attempt a clean-up without appropriate disinfectant and personal protective equipment.
  • Notify people in the immediate area and collect clean-up material and proceed with clean-up

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