Spill Response Guide: Toxic or Irritating Solids

Potential Hazards

  • Check for flammability or water-reactivity.
  • Contact may cause burns to skin or eyes.
  • May be toxic if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through skin.
  • Heat and/or fire may produce irritating or poisonous gases.
  • Airborne particles that could be inhaled may be generated when solids are disturbed.

Basic Supplies (See EHS Spill Preparedness and Response Training for additional information)


  • Absorbent towels or wipes
  • Spray bottle of water


  • Splash goggles
  • Lab coat or apron
  • Shoe Covers (optional)
  • Chemical-resistant gloves

Waste Handling

  • Sealable container
  • Spatula
  • Dustpan
  • Heavy duty waste bags
  • Tape to seal bags
  • Hazardous waste labels

Response Actions/Cleanup Methods

Toxic or irritating solids/powders can potentially generate airborne particles during the cleanup process. If not controlled, these airborne particles may become an inhalation hazard. Care is needed to use a cleaning method that suppresses dust/particle generation. Generally this is accomplished by dampening the solid with a water mist (if the material not water-reactive) or by covering the material with a damp paper towel and using this for the cleanup.

Determine if solid/powder is flammable or water-reactive.

  • If flammable, shut off ignition sources, flames and use non-sparking tools such as plastic.
  • Control water-reactive solids/powders with sweeping compound to minimize dust without the use of water.

Use gloves and safety goggles.

If material is not water-reactive, dampen lightly (such as with spray bottle of water) to prevent airborne dust.

  • If the material is light and fluffy, spray above the solid and allow the mist to settle directly on the spilled material and mix carefully.
  • If the material is less dusty, you can add a small amount of water directly to the spilled material and mix carefully. (Avoid adding water to corrosive solids unless the material is light and dusty enough to create an inhalation hazard because splattering may occur and the skin contact hazard increases.)

Alternatively, carefully place a damp paper towel or other wetted wipe over the spilled material. The moisture in the towel will help minimize dust generation.

Carefully push solids into a dust pan or container.

  • The material may be picked up using only the damp towel or by using the damp towel along with a plastic spatula.
  • Alternatively, two plastic spatulas may be used to push and lift moistened material into waste container.
  • Use a brush only for non-dusty solids. If a brush is used, proceed carefully to prevent raising airborne dust.
  • Use non-sparking (plastic) tools for flammable solids.
  • Clean the area with detergent and water after the spill cleanup.

Factors That Can Complicate Spill Response

Reactive materials require advance planning to determine the appropriate method to safely clean up a spill. For example, spontaneously combustible materials may need to be covered with oil to protect from air. Check SDS and manufacturer recommendations for your specific material.