[Histonet] RE: Formalin Spill Containment Protocol

Burrill, Jason Jason.Burrill <@t> crl.com
Wed Mar 19 12:34:46 CDT 2008

Without going into great detail about what should be required in terms
of a cleanup procedure for any chemical spilled you need to look at
every situation differently because they all present their own unique
situational responses.  When I provide training to chemical spill
handlers I highlight the importance of looking at the big picture before
you dive right in.  


Take the following example:

500 ml of 10% neutral buffered formalin is spilled on a floor in a room
that is 8 ft x 8 ft with normal, 4-12 room changes/hour, air flow.
Would you try to clean up that spill without a respirator?  I wouldn't
and here is why.  Because the Short Term Exposure Limit of formaldehyde
it 2 ppm for a 15 minute time period you would likely be asking someone
to put themselves in a situation where they would be exposed to a level
of formaldehyde that will have acute and possibly long term affects.


Now here is another scenario:

500 ml of 10% neutral buffered formalin is spilled in a fume hood or
grossing hood.  Can you clean up that spill with the appropriate PPE
(lab coat/apron, splash goggles and gloves?  Most likely the answer
would be yes because the inhalation hazard that would be presented is
negated by the fact that the spilled material is in a ventilated


I know it isn't easy but I have included an excerpt of the workshop I
give at Histology meetings as it pertains to chemical spills.  Sorry
that this is such a long response but your situation is very open ended
and requires a lot of thought before implementing a blanket response to
all spills.


When a Spill Occurs


Was anyone exposed? 

If so immediately administer aid according to the MSDS and seek medical
attention if necessary, according to the Formaldehyde and Lab Standard
exposed employees must be offered medical attention.  When an accident
occurs consider identifying someone to assist in aiding the exposed


Evaluate MSDS 

Does the MSDS have specific instructions for cleaning up small or large
spills?  If so, is there required PPE that you may not have access to
(e.g. respirators).


Extent of the spill

Is this a small spill that can be cleaned up by a non-hazmat trained
individual?  Which of the following categories would this spill fall

*         Incidental Release - Release of a chemical that if left
unattended does not impose an immediate threat to an employee's health
and well being.


*         Manageable Chemical Spill - Release of a hazardous chemical
that can be contained with spill agents and PPE on hand, without
exposing the employee to unnecessary hazards.


*         Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) - The
concentration of a chemical that is immediately dangerous to life and
health.  Inhalation of a chemical at this concentration is likely to be
lethal or to cause severe, irreversible damage.


*         Life-Threatening Situations - High concentrations of toxic
chemicals, IDLH environments, Oxygen-deficient atmosphere, Fire or
explosion hazard or a situation that requires immediate attention
because of the danger posed to employees in the area.


Evacuate personnel and secure area

Instruct personnel to evacuate the lab and if necessary activate the
fire pull station.  Post personnel or signs in the entryway of the lab
to prevent unnecessary exposure to the spill. 


Contact supervisor/chemical hygiene officer/emergency personnel for

Whomever your institution's protocols say to contact is how you should
proceed.  If you don't know ask!




Jason Burrill

Sr. Manager, Histology and Laboratory Safety

Charles River Laboratories

251 Ballardvale Street

Wilmington, MA 01887

Ph: 781-222-6152

Fax: 978-988-8793

jason.burrill <@t> crl.com <mailto:jason.burrill <@t> crl.com>  

**Please note new direct dial telephone number**


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