Chemical Spills and Exposures

Chemical spills require proper response procedures that take into consideration the chemicals involved, their potential toxicity or chemical hazards, routes of exposure, and the potential for releases to the environment. The Supplemental Laboratory Safety Plan completed by PI/LS must outline laboratory-specific spill and accident response procedures for particularly hazardous substances.

Laboratory personnel are not required to respond to a spill. An individual who is uncomfortable responding to a spill should contact EHS.

Expand All|Collapse All

What Spill Supplies are Necessary to Respond to a Chemical Spill?

A spill kit is an essential safety item for all laboratories. EHS provides a basic spill kit to each laboratory. They contain absorbent material (pads, sheets, spill socks), nitrile gloves, polyethylene bags, boundary marking tape, red biohazard autoclave bags for the collection of contaminated items, autoclave tape, tongs, sharps container, warning sign, spill supply inventory, and 5-gallon pail with screw top lid.

Contact EHS if additional supplies are needed. PPE should also be used when responding to a spill. These items should already be available in each laboratory:

  • Safety goggles;
  • Gloves compatible with the substances used in the laboratory; and
  • Lab coats.

How to Respond to an Emergency Spill

If the spill occurs after normal business hours or involves acutely toxic chemicals or chemicals of high-chronic toxicity, poses an inhalation hazard, is an unknown material, or cannot be isolated, contained, or controlled quickly, evacuate the room immediately.

  1. Contact University Police for any spill that you suspect meets one of the following conditions:
    • Is greater than one gallon (four liters) or one kilogram;
    • Poses an inhalation hazard;
    • Cannot be isolated, contained, or controlled quickly;
    • Poses imminent danger to health and safety;
    • Poses imminent danger to property or the environment; or
    • You are uncomfortable responding to on your own.
  2. Notify the Police by dialing 911 and provide the following details to the Police Dispatcher.
    • Your name;
    • Contact information;
    • Location of the spill;
    • Chemical(s) or product(s) involved;
    • Approximate quantity;
    • Injuries and/or property damage;
    • Status of the spill (e.g. contained, continued, abating, increasing, etc.); and
    • Any other information that can assist in identifying, containing, or responding to the spill.
  3. University Police will notify EHS of the spill and will contact additional emergency services, if necessary.
  4. Signal to others to leave, close the door, and post a warning sign.
  5. Go to a support space or adjacent laboratory. Avoid the hallway and publicly accessed areas.
  6. Remove contaminated PPE and clothing, turning exposed areas inward, and place in a polyethylene bag.
  7. If a personal exposure has occurred or you experience symptoms of exposure seek emergency medical assistance.

How to Respond to a Minor Spill

Follow these steps when responding to a chemical spill of a known material in a small amount that can be managed by laboratory personnel:

  1. Notify the Principal Investigator and contact EHS prior to responding to a chemical spill for assistance, if needed.
  2. Review the SDS to determine the appropriate PPE and cleanup procedures. If the SDS is unavailable, contact EHS for assistance. Do not respond to a spill unless you have reviewed the SDS. Refer to the following sections of the SDS for cleanup information:
    • Section 3 – Hazard Identification;
    • Section 6 – Accidental Release Measures; and
    • Section 8 – Exposure Control and Personal Protection.
  3. Retrieve spill cleanup supplies and PPE. EHS has placed spill response equipment throughout the university; contact EHS for spill supplies and assistance.
  4. Wear appropriate PPE as recommended by the SDS.
  5. Check equipment and containers for leaks, damage, or holes. Place damaged or leaking containers in impervious secondary containment.
  6. Surround the spill with absorbent materials to contain the spill and prevent further contamination.
  7. If the spill is increasing in size, use absorbent or impervious material to block the most likely path the spilled material will take.
  8. Ensure that spill cleanup equipment is compatible with the spilled chemical(s).
  9. Start from the outside perimeter of the spill and begin absorbing the product using absorbent pads, booms, rags, or other media.
  10. Collect all contaminated absorbent materials, PPE, and tools and place them in an appropriate rigid, sealable container or sturdy plastic bag.
  11. Label the container holding the spill debris with a label that has both the date and the name of the spilled material(s) and include the words “Hazardous Waste.”
  12. Contact EHS to remove and dispose of the spill debris. Do not dispose contaminated cleanup materials in the municipal waste bins.

What to do in the Event of a Chemical Exposure

In the event of a personal exposure, an individual’s primary concern must be to minimize the degree of exposure and the possible effects. The emergency procedures employed depend on the type of hazardous substance to which the individual was exposed and the extent of exposure. Immediate emergency response procedures for inhalation, ingestion, or skin exposure incidents are provided below. In general, laboratory personnel who have experienced an exposure should immediately:

  1. Decontaminate affected areas using the exposure procedures outlined in the SDS. If the situation requires immediate medical attention, immediately contact the Police by dialing 911 and relay the following information:
    • Nature of the injury or illness;
    • Victim’s location;
    • Identity of the victim; and
    • Suspected or known cause of the injury or illness.
  2. Provide first aid or medical assistance as necessary, if trained.
  3. Do not move the victim if they are unconscious unless they are in immediate danger.
  4. If the victim is unconscious and not breathing, locate an AED if available, turn it on and follow the instructions provided by the unit.
  5. Remain with the victim until emergency response personnel arrive.
  6. Do not provide first aid or CPR if not properly trained and certified to do so.
  7. Students who have been exposed should report to Student Health Services. If Student Health Services is closed, seek medical attention at the closest medical facility.
  8. Faculty and staff should report to the nearest medical facility as listed on the Supplemental Laboratory Safety Plan associated with the lab where potential exposure occurred. (Note: Employees with health insurance through Kaiser Permanente should contact Kaiser Permanente to identify the medical provider.)
  9. Immediately notify the PI/LS and EHS of the incident.
  10. If you are a student, fill out an Incident Report Form and submit it to Safety, Emergency, and Enterprise Risk Management; employees are required to submit a First Report of Accident Form to the Workers’ Compensation department within Human Resources and Payroll.

In the event of a life-threatening injury/illness, contact emergency medical service personnel immediately. Do not attempt transport the individual to a medical facility. Wait for emergency medical services to arrive.

Medical care related to a work-related exposure may be provided at no cost to the employee in accordance with the George Mason University Workers Compensation program.  Emergency or urgent care facilities closest to the Fairfax and the Science and Technology campuses are listed below.


Fairfax Campus Science and Technology Campus
Med-First Urgent Care Center **
9452 Main Street
Fairfax, VA 22031
Novant Prince William Hospital **
8700 Sudley Road
Manassas, VA 20110
Inova Fair Oaks Hospital
3600 Joseph Siewick Drive
Fairfax, VA 22033
7524 Diplomat Drive
Suite 101
Manassas, VA 20109

Inova Fairfax Hospital **
3300 Gallows Road
Falls Church, VA 22042

Inova Emergency Services **
4315 Chain Bridge Road
Fairfax, VA 22030

Virginia Medical Acute Care (VMAC) **
5501 Backlick Road
Suite 105
Springfield, VA 22151

** Provides 24-hour emergency medical care

Any university employee requiring non-emergency medical evaluation or additional treatment for such an exposure should contact the Human Resources Office and complete the Panel Physicians Selection Form from the Human Resources webpage and submit the form to the Human Resources Office.

Students seeking medical care for nonlife-threatening injuries/illnesses may visit Student Health Services at one of the following three locations.

Fairfax Science and Technology Arlington
Student Union Building
Room 214
Phone: 703-993-2831
Colgan Hall
Room 229
Phone: 703-993-8374
Founders Hall
Suite B-102
Phone: 703-993-4863


What to do for Exposures Involving Inhalation of a Chemical

Follow the steps below when there is a potential for inhalation exposure:

  1. Stop breathing in order to avoid inhaling airborne substances, and quickly leave the room.
  2. Signal to others to leave, close the door, and post a warning sign.
  3. Go to a support space, adjacent laboratory, or outside for fresh air.
  4. Remove contaminated PPE and clothing, turning exposed areas inward, and place in a polyethylene bag.
  5. Review the SDS for the chemical involved to evaluate exposure data.
  6. Call 911 for emergency medical assistance or seek medical attention at the closest medical facility listed above.
  7. Call 911 for medical assistance or report to the closest medical facility, when needed.
  8. Immediately notify PI/LS and EHS. EHS must clear the laboratory for reentry. If EHS is not available or it is after normal business hours, contact University Police.

What to do for Exposures Involving Ingestion of a Chemical

In the event of accidental ingestion, seek medical attention (dial 911 or the Poison Control Center at 800-962-1253). Do not induce vomiting unless directed to do so by a healthcare provider. Immediately notify PI/LS and EHS. If EHS is not available or it is after normal business hours, contact University Police.

What to do for Exposures to the Skin or Mucous Membrane

Skin or mucous membrane exposure can occur through splashes to the eye, face, exposed skin, or clothing; by touching mucous membranes with contaminated hands; from a needlestick, puncture with a contaminated sharp object, an animal scratch or bite; or through wounds, abrasions, and eczema. In the event of a skin or mucous membrane exposure:

  1. Remove contaminated PPE and clothing, turning exposed areas inward, and place in a polyethylene bag.
  2. For mucous membrane exposure, flush the affected area with the eyewash for at least 15 minutes.
  3. For skin exposure, wash affected skin with soap and cold water for at least 15 minutes. Cold water has the effect of closing the skins pores thereby slowing the rate of absorption
    into the body. Wash gently so as not to break the skin. For skin exposures not limited to the hands and forearms, the emergency shower should be used.
  4. Call 911 for emergency medical assistance or seek medical attention at the closest medical facility.
  5. Immediately notify PI/LS and EHS. EHS must clear the laboratory for reentry. If EHS is not available or it is after normal business hours, contact University Police.