Safety 101: Chemical Spills

On the night of Dec 2, 1984, the death of more than 8,000 people occurred within two weeks in Bhopal, India. The cataclysmic disaster has caused damage comparable to the apocalypse in the Bible. Death, famine and disease haunted Bhopal and the place has not yet recovered even up until now. Though the reason is yet undetermined up to this day, a few people suspected that a chemical spill might have corroded the tanks causing them to leak harmful gases into the air. These gases produced a gas cloud that engulfed the city. It was mainly composed of hydrogen cyanide, monomethyl amine and hydrogen chloride that wreaked death and havoc all throughout the Indian city.

What should I do if a chemical spill happens?

A major spill can easily disrupt the whole laboratory function and might even cause an evacuation of the whole building. Sometimes, no matter how careful everyone seems to be, it still happens. However, one good thing about it is that your team can clean it yourself. You are not only saving time, but also, you are showing a good sense of responsibility. Simple tools such as achemical spill kit should come in handy in times of a chemical spill. You should be able to communicate to other coworkers and tell them the possible hazards it might bring.

What should I know before I clean a spill?

Like going to war, it is best if you know your enemy. As an important part of laboratory work, one must able to determine the level of hazard that a chemical can cause. Before one uses any chemical, he should be able to evaluate the risk of the spill for him to develop a procedural game plan. When planning and preparing for potential problems, determine the class of hazard that it might bring upon. Chemicals react differently to various substances. As a laboratory worker, one must know that a chemical can be flammable, reactive to air and/or water, corrosive or highly toxic.

As a safety measure, all laboratory workers must wear the appropriate gear. Laboratory gowns, goggles and masks are oftentimes used. It would also be better if the workers are equipped with the right training when it comes to working with chemicals and equipment. Appropriate evacuation sites and procedures are also important. In case of fire or when handling flammable chemicals, fire suppressing equipment such as fire extinguishers are equally important. Disposal cans or containers for spill cleanup materials and first aid kits are equally important tools as well.

The spill kit, also known as the hazchem spill kit that one should use, also plays an important role. It should be able to clean all kinds of chemicals including strong bases and aggressive acids. It should be able to absorb flammable chemicals such as paints, solvents, coolants, degreasers, pesticides and herbicides. The material used should be absorbent, if it can absorb twenty times its weight, the better. Polypropylene absorbents are a good example of materials that do this.

In addition, when disposing these materials, one should make sure that the environment is not harmed. Environmental protection should be one of the advocacies of all laboratories. These things are so simple yet important. By knowing this, one can prevent a disastrous event like the Bhopal tragedy and save lives in the process.