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Spill Cleanup Procedure

Spill Cleanup

When a hazardous material spill occurs, it is necessary to take prompt and appropriate action.  The type of response to a spill will depend on the quantity and nature of the material spilled and the severity of the hazards presented.

  • The first action to take is to alert others in your lab or work area that a spill has occurred.
  • Then you must determine if you can safely clean up the spill yourself.  Incidental spills can be safely cleaned up without the help of EHS.
  • If you need assistance, or someone is contaminated with radioactivity, notify the Cornell 911 Center, operated by Cornell Police, using one of these methods:

    • In an emergency – Call 911 from any campus phone
    • call 607-255-1111 from a cellular or off-campus phone
    • use a Blue Light  Telephone or other emergency telephone
    • in case of fire, activate the building fire alarm using a manual fire alarm pull-station.

A release to the outside environment may require the University file a report with the EPA, or other regulatory agency.  If the spilled material goes down a drain or releases hazardous vapors, or gases, call Cornell Police to initiate a regulatory reporting determination.

EHS emergency spill response service is for small spills only.  EHS’s spill response is capable of handling spills of radioisotopes, chemicals and biohazardous materials, including response to spills within BSL3 facilities.  Larger spills, highly toxic spills, or spills associated with a risk of fire may involve the Fire Department’s HazMat team.

EHS spill response operates within the following limitations:

  • Spill cleanup is only activated via 911 emergency call
  • EHS responders are not capable of fully encapsulated (Level A) response
  • Spill team response, especially after hours, will not be immediate
  • Spills requiring longer than four (4) hours to cleanup will be stabilized by EHS for subsequent clean up:
    1. by the department
    2. by an EHS contractor and paid by the department
    3. as EHS waste operations staff can fit it into their schedule

Incident chemical spills can be safely cleaned up without the help of EHS. A spill is considered incidental if the criteria below are met.


  • The spill is a small quantity of a known chemical, radiological or biological material.

  • No gases, aerosols or vapors are present that require respiratory protection


  • You have the materials and equipment needed to clean up the spill.

  • You have the necessary proper personal protective (PPE) equipment available.


  • You understand the hazards posed by the spilled material.

  • You know how to clean up the spill.
  • You feel comfortable cleaning up the spill.

At other Cornell locations, for hazardous materials emergencies call 911 from a safe location and follow the emergency action guideline.