December 6, 2022

Emergency Chemical Spill Center

Emergency Chemical Spill CenterShown is an image of the Emergency Chemical Spill Center that I created for a high-school chemistry lab.  I consulted with recommendations from Flinn Scientific.  See my post on Laboratory Safety with Flinn Scientific.  You can certainly purchase ready-made kits, and while they look rather pretty, they are not generally the best use of the laboratory budget.  I decided to use a heavy-duty cart placed in a central location.  For small spills there are small containers which may be retrieved and carried to the problem, but for larger spills the cart may be moved to the problem area.  The large (and therefore heavy) buckets each contain a scoop and are closed with plastic wrap that may easily be removed.

Baking Soda:  Baking soda,  also known as sodium bicarbonate or sodium  hydrogen carbonate, is the most commonly used item on the cart.  You can purchase individual boxes at the grocery store, and larger boxes may be obtained  economically from club stores.  It is very mild, and it can be used to neutralize both acids and bases.  For small bench-top acid spills students will liberally sprinkle the baking soda on the spill until the bubbling stops, and then the mess may be cleaned up with water and paper towels.

Baking soda is also a good option for small fires that could be extinguished with an ordinary ABC fire extinguisher.  Not only will the powder starve the fire of oxygen, but upon heating baking soda decomposes generating copious amounts of carbon dioxide further blanketing the fire from oxygen.

Carol didn't use safety gogglesSoda Ash:  I purchased a large pail of  soda ash from the local pool-supply store.  It is more potent than baking soda, but it is still easy to use.  It is an excellent choice for larger acid spills.

Dry Sand:  Dry sand is your option for fires which cannot be extinguished with water, carbon dioxide or an ABC fire extinguisher.  This includes fires involving Group I and Group II metals such as sodium and magnesium. Make certain the sand is actually dry and is kept dry!  An excellent choice is to bury the fire with an excess of sand.  A good follow-up would be to cover the whole thing with a fire blanket just in case there is an explosion from released hydrogen gas.

Sand is also excellent for containment of liquid spills.  Try to create a barrier around a puddle to prevent further spreading.  The grit may also provide traction and prevent slips and bodily injury due to slimy floor tiles that dissolve with an acid spill or a solvent spill.

Kitty Litter:  Kitty litter is cheap, and it is excellent for absorbing liquids.  It may be swept up and placed in a container, and neutralization may take place in that container.  For example, it’s a challenge to neutralize a strong base when it is spilled all over the floor.

safety signsInstructions:  Directions for using the cart and its contents are attached directly to the cart and placed on the wall above the cart.  Instructions, and when appropriate an MSDS, are attached directly to each bucket on the cart.  Students are routinely questioned about safety procedures, and every laboratory exercise has a portion of the grade assigned to laboratory safety.

Since taking this picture I have added a broom and a dustpan as well as safety gloves to the cart.  Naturally the lab also has fire extinguishers, fire blankets, an emergency shower, an eye-wash station, appropriate personal protective equipment, etc.  You can see a Fox E Flinn safety poster to the right of the picture; safety posters are all around the lab and the classroom.