Spill Response Guide: Toxic/ Poisonous or Irritating liquids

Potential Hazards

  • Check for flammability.  If flammable or combustible, refer to “Flammable/Combustible Liquids” guidance.
  • Some of these materials may burn but are not readily ignitable.
  • Contact causes irritation or 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.

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

Materials PPE Waste Handling
Absorbent pads, pillows, or loose sorbent, OR
Solvent absorbent such as Spill-X-S or
Solusorb (Solusorb may be used for non-oxidizing liquids, only)
Splash goggles
Lab coat or apron
Shoe Covers (optional)
Chemical-resistant gloves
Sealable container
Non-sparking (plastic) mixing tools
Heavy duty waste bags
Tape to seal bags
Hazardous waste labels

Response Actions/Cleanup Methods

  • Alert others in the spill area.
  • Don’t touch or walk through the spilled material.
  • Based on the material and quantity spilled, assess the potential volatility and safe exposure limit.
    • Isolate the area and vent vapors only to the outside. Alert others if this is not possible.
    • Wait a few seconds to allow any aerosols generated during the spill to settle before beginning cleanup and take care not to generate aerosols during cleanup by avoiding vigorous wiping.
  • Wear eye and skin protection. Choose gloves that are compatible with spilled liquid.  Silver Shield®/4H® gloves are a good general choice. 
  • Avoid breathing vapors.
  • Dike the spilled liquid to prevent spreading.  Universal absorbent such as spill pads, pillows, or a general absorbent material may be used.
  • Cover the spill area with a universal absorbent and absorb all spilled material.  Spill-X-S®, Solusorb®, or other activated charcoal may be used for volatile solvents to reduce vapors. (DO NOT use charcoal with oxidizing materials!)
  • Pick up spill cleanup materials with plastic tools and place them into a plastic or glass container with a sealable lid.
  • Label material for collection by EHS.
  • Thoroughly ventilate the area after the cleanup.
  • Clean the area with detergent and water after the spill cleanup.

Factors That Can Complicate Spill Response

  • Spilled toxic/poisonous or irritating liquids may become a major spill due to a large quantity spilled, a complex situation such as multiple chemicals spilled or involved in a spill, or if special respiratory protection is required for response.
  • Special respiratory protection may be required if there is an inhalation hazard due to –
    • Increased toxicity/volatility.
    • Severe short term health effects.
    • Highly volatile or toxic materials spilled in poorly ventilated areas. For example, a large quantity of 37% formaldehyde solution would be volatile, combustible, and have severe short-term health effects.
  • Chemicals with strong or irritating odors, such as chemicals labeled “stench” or lachrymators may affect an entire building in a short time if contaminated air is recirculated.  A small quantity spill could be mistaken for a gas leak and result in emergency evacuation of a building.  If these types of chemicals are spilled, alert others and, if possible, quickly move the spilled material to a fume hood. If a fume hood is not available, double-bag or triple-bag waste and tightly close to control odor. For example, beta-mercaptoethanol has a very strong “rotten-egg” odor and is considered a “stench” chemical.