The University of Iowa

Spill/Emergency Planning

Spill Management

At The University of Iowa, individuals are responsible for their own spills. Each hazardous material user must be ready and equipped to handle a spill. Critical elements for a safe and effective response are: information and knowledge of materials used, adequate spill response supplies, adequate training, and knowing when and who to call for assistance.

The Lab Standard and Right-to-Know Programs require emergency and spill response training. When preparing your response plan consider the location, existing ventilation, and nature of potential spills.  EHS is available for guidance and training to facilitate your response planning.

To Prepare:

  1. Ensure you have access to Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for the hazardous materials you use.
    • SDSs are maintained in Chemwatch, which can be accessed through any UI computer or by calling a phone number in an emergency; please see the SDS webpage for more information. UI staff are required to keep their chemical inventory up-to-date in EHS Assistant such that EHS staff can update Chemwatch with SDSs for newly purchased chemicals.  Active EHS Assistant users can access the inventories and SDSs from outside the lab in the event of an emergency.
  2. Understand the properties and hazards of the materials before beginning to use them.
  3. Maintain a call list (daytime and after-hours) of individuals who should be notified in an emergency.
  4. Collect and maintain spill response supplies. Sources include: lab safety suppliers, Biochemistry and Chemistry Stores.
  5. Know the location of and how to use emergency equipment such as emergency showers and eye washes.
  6. Train and practice for effective spill response.

Contact Rick Byrum at 335-9379 with questions regarding spill response planning.

How to Respond to Spills

Step 1: Attend to Personal Injuries

Step 2: Assess the Risk

Step 3: Initiate Action

Clothing on fire: Roll person on floor to smother flame, drench with water if immediately available. 

Splash in eyes: Immediately rinse eyes with water continuously for 15 minutes. Forcibly hold eye open to rinse behind eyelids. Obtain medical attention. 

Spill on body: Remove contaminated clothing and flood exposed area with running water from faucet or safety shower for 5 minutes. Make sure spill has not accumulated in shoes. 

For biological spills: wash exposed area with soap and water.

Minor cuts and puncture wounds: Wash vigorously with soap and water, bandage wound, seek medical help if necessary. 

Major spills meet any one of these criteria:

  • spreads rapidly
  • requires rescue of personnel
  • endangers people or the environment
  • presents an inhalation hazard
  • has created significant contamination for personnel (radioactive materials)

Simple spills meet all these criteria:

  • do not spread rapidly
  • do not endanger people or the environment except by direct contact
  • can be managed safely by people trained to use the material

Major spills    

  • dial 911
  • activate alarm, evacuate, and assemble at a safe distance
  • account for people; warn others not to enter
  • wait for and provide information to responders

Simple spills

  • keep the area clear
  • notify any affected people
  • plan and initiate cleanup
  • call EHS for advice, if needed

Report all personal injuries to your supervisor. Medical attention is available 24 hours at UIHC Emergency Treatment Center, telephone 356-2233.

Types of Spills

Chemical Spill General Guide

  • Isolate the spill area and alert others in the area.
  • Determine identity of spilled material and consult SDS to determine potential hazard(s).
  • Avoid breathing vapors, get as much fresh air into area as you can safely.
  • Establish ventilation to the outside if safe to do so and action does not spread the contaminant through the building.
  • Use absorbents and neutralizing agents that are compatible with chemical spilled.
  • Prevent spilled chemicals from going down drains to avoid affecting the environment.
  • Dispose of cleanup materials as chemical hazardous waste; small volumes (<100ml) of dilute acids and bases may be neutralized (pH 6-8) and sewered.
  • Call EHS for hazardous waste pickup or for guidance on cleanup or air monitoring.

Simple spills--liquid

  1. alert people in area
  2. wear protective equipment
  3. contain by diking with appropriate absorbent
  4. if flammable, remove ignition sources (burners, motors, anything that could cause a spark); use plastic or nonmetallic cleanup equipment
  5. absorb or neutralize with appropriate agent working from outside edges inward; sorbents do not remove toxic or flammable hazards; neutralization can produce heat causing boiling and splattering
  • acid—use sodium bicarbonate or acid spill kit 
  • base—use sodium bisulfate, citric acid, or base spill kit 
  • formaldehyde--absorb or use polymerizer

Simple spills--dry

  1. if not water reactive, dampen to prevent airborne dust
  2. control water reactive dust with sweeping compound
  3. carefully brush solids into a dust pan or container
  4. keep dust generation down to prevent creating inhalation hazard

Compressed gas leak—simple (presents no or only minimal inhalation or fire hazard)

  1. remove ignition sources
  2. restrict access
  3. place in or next to fume hood if possible; tighten fittings
  4. locate leak with soapy water (at below freezing temperatures use 50% glycerin solution)
  5. if cylinder still leaks, contact supplier
  6. notify your PI/supervisor

Compressed gas leak--major

Large or uncontrollable leak or fire hazard, involves acutely toxic gas, and/or more than minimal personal risk 

  1. alert others to evacuate 
  2. call 911
  3. turn off ignition sources
  4. leave fume hoods running; ventilate the affected area prior to leaving the area (only if it can be done safely and only to the outside)
  5. evacuate; assemble in a remote location; account for people
  6. provide information to emergency responders


Large or heated spills can be an inhalation hazard

  1. isolate area to prevent tracking
  2. wear gloves and shoe covers (if on floor)
  3. consolidate and collect droplets using scraper, cardboard, wet paper towel, aspirator bulb, tape or special sponge (can be purchased from Biochemistry Stores)
  4. place all waste in sealed container; contact EHS for hazardous waste pickup

Major spills

Evacuate, call 911, and wait for responders.



  • Spill Preparedness Response - W142CM
    • EHS training course is recommended initially and annually for the indicated audience.
    • Audience: Persons who use hazardous materials (chemicals, radioactive materials, biological materials) in their workplace.

For further training and registration information, go to EHS Safety Training.