How to Respond to Chemical Spills in Laboratory
If you work with chemicals, a chemical spill can happen at some point. With proper cleanup supplies, training, and protective equipment, you can manage spills easily and safely.
Hazards and potential risks assessment on chemicals and laboratory operations are crucial to planning an experiment. The substances encountered in the laboratory have a broad spectrum of physical, chemical, and toxicological properties and physiological effects. The risks of using chemicals must be well understood before their use in an experiment.
The extent of exposure and the inherent chemical toxicity is connected to the risk of toxic effects. The route of exposure is also an important consideration in risk assessment. Substances can penetrate the body through the skin, eyes, gastrointestinal tract, or respiratory tract. Risk assessment also needs to consider hazards due to flammability, explosivity, and reactivity.
All these measures must be specified in writing and fully implemented to prevent accidents in the workplace.
Immediate Spill Cleanup
Chemical spills can result in chemical contamination. Multiple factors can be related to whether a chemical spill can be safely cleaned up. It includes the hazards of the spilt chemicals, the extent of the spill, the presence of incompatible materials, and the adequacy of training and supplies to clean up the spill safely.
A small chemical spill involves a chemical that is not highly toxic, does not confer a significant fire or environmental hazard, and is not in a public area. In handling small spills…
- Non-essential persons in the area must be evacuated.
- Confine the spill and avoid breathing in the vapours.
- Do not attempt to clean up if the spill is in a non-ventilated area.
- Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as laboratory coats, splash goggles, and chemically resistant gloves.
- Do not add water to the spill.
- Use a suitable kit to neutralise and absorb inorganic acids and bases. For other chemicals, use sorbent pads, vermiculite, or dry sand.
- Collect the residue and put it inside double-clear plastic bags. Label it with the name of the chemical and tag it as harmful waste.
Large chemical spills require immediate emergency response. Large spills contain highly toxic, volatile, or flammable chemicals. Evacuate all people in the area and call for professional help immediately. If the spill presents a fire risk, alert others to leave the premises and activate the fire alarm.
When to Call for Emergency Action
Highly toxic chemical spills require emergency response. Do not try to clean up spills of the following chemicals regardless of the size.
- Arsenic trioxide
- Dimethyl sulfoxide
- Hydrogen cyanide
- Nitrous oxide
- Potassium cyanide (analytical reagent and purified)
- Sodium arsenate (analytical reagent)
- Sodium cyanide (analytical reagent)
- Sodium azide
- Sodium hydroxide
- Sodium hypochlorite
- Tetrahydrofuran (THF)
Proper Packaging, Labelling, Storage, and Disposal
It is important to adhere to the proper disposal methods as strictly as possible. The chemicals that can be washed down the drain with plenty of water include:
- Harmless soluble inorganic salts
- Alcohols containing salts
- Concentrated and dilute acids and alkalis
- Hypochlorite solutions
- Fine silica and alumina
The following materials should be disposed of via incineration:
- All organic solvents
- Paraffin and mineral oil
- Soluble organic waste
There are specific requirements for chemical waste in terms of general packaging requirements that must be followed:
- Incompatible materials should not be mixed in a single container.
- Wastes must be stored in compatible containers. For example, corrosive chemicals must not be kept in metal containers.
- Solvent safety cans must be used to collect and store large volumes of flammable organic waste solvents temporarily.
- Precipitates, solids, and other non-fluid wastes must not be inserted into safety cans.
- Halogenated and non-halogenated solvents must be packed separately.
- Solid chemical wastes must not be stored in biohazard bags because it would incorrectly indicate a non-existent hazard.
There are also specific requirements for chemical waste in terms of general labelling requirements that must be followed:
- A chemical waste label must be directly attached to the waste container.
- All information on the chemical waste label must be provided. Chemical generic names must be listed with no abbreviations, acronyms, or trademarks.
In terms of general storage requirements, the following specific requirements must be followed:
- Waste chemicals must be stored in the central waste-holding facility of the building. If it is unavailable, the chemical waste should temporarily be stored in the generator’s laboratory.
- All required safety precautions for handling and storing chemicals will also be applied for generated wastes.
- Waste must be segregated according to compatibility groups like acids, bases, flammables, oxidisers, and water reactives.
- Ageing containers should be disposed of promptly. Some chemicals are time-sensitive and may degrade into highly hazardous byproducts.
An uncontrolled chemical leakage in the laboratory, though a common occurrence, is a dangerous and notifiable incident. Provide relevant training to your employees to understand what to do during a spill to minimise the potential danger. Engage an industrial cleaning company in Singapore to handle any spill situation effortlessly.
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