Complicated Chemical Spills


Call 911 immediately in the event of a Complicated Chemical Spill. If you are unsure if a spill is a complicated spill, call 911.


A complicated spill requires evacuation of the area and the assistance of outside specialists from one of the local fire departments.


DRS does not perform spill clean-ups, but should be notified when a Complicated Chemical Spill has occurred. Call DRS at 217-333-2755 to report a complicated spill when it is safe to do so.


Indicators that a spill is complicated are:

  • The release poses a threat to health; (e.g. highly toxic and volatile chemical spilled outside the fume hood);
  • The release causes symptoms such as burning eyes, difficulty breathing, headache, dizziness;
  • The release poses a serious threat of fire and explosion; (e.g. large amounts of highly flammable solvents spilled outside the fume hood);
  • The spill has the potential to spread to other parts of the building, such as through the ventilation system;
  • The spill occurs in a public space such as a corridor or elevator, and releases fumes or can cause harm to those in the area;
  • The spill may endanger the environment, such as by reaching waterways or outside ground;
  • The clean-up requires PPE (e.g. eye protection, gloves, chemically resistant suit) that is not available;
  • Personnel are uncertain of proper clean-up procedures for the spilled chemicals;
  • Appropriate clean-up material is not available;
  • The identity of the chemical is unknown.

Follow these steps to respond to a COMPLICATED chemical spill:

  1. Evacuate the affected area and alert others nearby to evacuate.
  2. If possible, close doors and windows as you evacuate the area (open windows can cause fumes and vapors to travel into the hallway).
  3. Call 911 and provide the following information:
    • Any injuries
    • Location of the spill (building name and room number)
    • Name of the chemical spilled
    • Quantity of the chemical spilled
    • Any fire or explosions related to the spill
    • Your name and phone number
  4. Arrange for someone to meet the emergency responders.
  5. Contact DRS at 217-333-2755
  6. Cordon off the area if it is safe for you to do so(secure with signs and warning tape, or post staff to prevent anyone from entering the affected area before the emergency responders arrive).
  7. Be available to provide information to first responders if you do not need medical attention.

Simple Chemical Spills

A simple spill does not pose an immediate threat to health or the environment.

A simple chemical spill should be immediately cleaned up by laboratory staff. If unsure about the procedure, assess the spill and notify your supervisor.

DRS does not perform spill clean-ups, but should be contacted if there are questions on procedures or disposal.

Take the following steps to clean up simple spills:

  1. Alert others nearby to warn them of the spill.
  2. Put on PPE (lab coat, gloves, safety goggles).
  3. Neutralize or absorb liquid spills using appropriate material for the spilled chemical as outlined below under “Spill clean-up procedures for specific spills”. Carefully sweep powder spills to avoid contaminating the air with chemical dust.
  4. Sweep up spilled material using a broom and dustpan or inert absorbent pads and put the material into a heavy duty plastic bag or a container with lid.
  5. Wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and ventilate the area if necessary.
  6. Dispose of spilled material as hazardous waste. Questions regarding chemical waste disposal should be addressed to DRS by email ( ) or by calling 333-2755. 

Spill clean-up procedures for specific spills

Flammables Liquids

Use non-flammable absorbent pillows or pads, or inert absorbent powder:

  1. Cover the spill with absorbent material to suppress vapors.
  2. Once the liquid is absorbed, place the absorbent material into a sturdy plastic bag, seal the bag, and dispose of as flammable waste through DRS.
  3. The spill area can then be cleaned with soap and water.


Do NOT use paper towels to absorb flammable liquids because they add combustible material to the spill.

Do NOT leave absorbent pads or materials under a fume hood to evaporate the solvent before disposal.

Corrosive Liquids

Neutralize the corrosive liquid before clean-up because it may break down general purpose spill pads:

  • Acids: sodium bicarbonate, calcium carbonate, or commercially available acid neutralizer.
  • Hydrofluoric acid: calcium carbonate or commercially available hydrofluoric acid neutralizer.
  • Bases: citric acid, sodium bisulfate, or commercially available base neutralizer.

Using the neutralizer in powder form instead of a solution prevents spreading the spill further:

  1. Sprinkle the powder at the edges of the spill and work to the center. Be careful because the neutralization process can be vigorous, causing splashes and yielding large amounts of heat.
  2. After the initial reaction has taken place move the neutralizer around using a spatula and make sure all the corrosive chemical has reacted. Add more neutralizer as needed.
  3. Scoop up the neutralized spill and place it into sturdy plastic bag or container with lid, and dispose of as hazardous waste.


Acid Chlorides are water reactive so avoid the introduction of water to these reactive compounds by using Oil-Dri or Zorb-All to absorb the spill. If neither is available, sodium bicarbonate can be carefully sprinkled onto the spill to neutralize. The reaction may be vigorous.

More detailed information on corrosive chemicals and commonly used acid baths can be found in the safety library on the DRS web site.

Alkali Metals (lithium, sodium, magnesium, potassium)

Due to their reactivity avoid contact with water:

  1. Use tweezers to quickly pick-up the metal and put it into a container of mineral oil.
  2. Make sure the container holds enough oil so that all metal is fully submerged.
  3. Close the container and dispose of as metal waste.

If a fire occurs, smother with sand or extinguish with a Class “D” fire extinguisher. If the fire cannot be controlled close the fume hood, evacuate the area and contact emergency responders (911 and DRS).


Due to the inhalation hazard of bromine only attempt to clean up spills inside a chemical fume hood. If the spill is outside the hood, the area should be evacuated and emergency responders should be called (911 and DRS).

  1. Neutralize spills inside the hood with a 5-10% solution of sodium thiosulfate if safe to do so.
  2. Wash the contaminated area several times with the sodium thiosulfate solution to completely decontaminate.
  3. Clean up the resulting solution with an absorbent pad.

For more information on neutralization of bromine see the Bromaid website.


  1. Cordon off the area to prevent mercury from being tracked. Secure with signs and warning tape, or post staff to prevent anyone from entering the affected area.
  2. Collect spilled mercury using a disposable pipette, syringe or other aspirator and dispense into a container with lid (e.g. glass vial).
  3. Thoroughly check the area around the spill to find mercury droplets that may have rolled away or into cracks. A flashlight is particularly useful because the mercury will reflect the light.
  4. Sprinkle mercury absorbent powder (Hg Absorb™, zinc powder, or sulfur) over the affected spill area to amalgamate droplets that are too small to be seen. Make sure to include cracks and corners.
  5. Sweep up the reacted powder, place it in a heavy duty plastic bag or container with lid.
  6. Thoroughly clean the area with soap and water.
  7. Dispose of collected mercury, and all mercury contaminated powder and items as hazardous waste.


Small amounts of spilled mercury such as individual droplets may also be absorbed with a mercury sponge:

  1. Place the sponge on the spilled mercury until all mercury is absorbed.
  2. Place the sponge and any contaminated materials (such a broken thermometers) in a sturdy plastic bag and dispose of as hazardous waste.
  3. Thoroughly clean the area with soap and water.




Independent of the method used for clean-up, it is always recommended to use a commercially available mercury indicator to make sure the area is completely decontaminated.





Do NOT use a broom or a regular vacuum or shop vacuum cleaner for mercury because it will release mercury vapors and become contaminated.





For large spills, or if the spill includes difficult to reach areas, contact F&S (333-0340) to request clean-up using a special mercury vacuum cleaner (there will be a charge). Porous material, that is contaminated with mercury may be difficult or impossible to clean up and may have to be discarded.


More information on mercury can be found here.






Last Updated: 12/4/2023