The Dangers of Chemical Spills & The Importance of Responding Immediately

18th December 2017

 

Even with a prudent chemical spill storage program in place, the reality is that accidents still happen, and chemical spills aren’t rare occurrences in workplaces and universities. However, a good spill response plan is imperative for minimising the damage from any chemical spill.

If workplaces and other institutions delay chemical spill containment, the spill spreads, increasing the magnitude of the potential damage such chemical spills can cause to humans, the workplace itself, and the environment. Larger spills require more time, energy, and resources to clean up, thus increasing the potential financial effects of a chemical spill.

This post highlights the main significant effects on people, structures, and the wider environment associated with chemical spills. You’ll also come to understand the main steps your organization can take to ensure adequate chemical clean up with a thorough spill response plan.

Main Effects of Chemical Spills

The main detrimental effect of a chemical spill can be broken down into three broad categories.

Human Effects

Different chemicals can pose different types of threats to people.

  • Toxic or poisonous gases can cause severe illness and even fatalities in some cases. The greater the concentration of toxic chemicals spilled or leaked, the more potential for significant loss of life.
  • Corrosive chemicals can cause severe burns when touched, damage eyesight, and cause harm to the respiratory tract.
  • Some chemical spills have a delayed carcinogenic effect, such as asbestos inhalation causing lung cancer years after the initial exposure.
  • Flammable chemicals can also cause obvious damage to humans through fires or explosions.

Structural Effects

Chemical spills can cause significant damage to buildings such as offices and laboratories.

  • Fires can cause severe structural damage to buildings, and in particularly severe instances, the complete collapses of a structure due to degradation of its foundation from high temperatures.
  • Certain toxic chemicals can leave buildings unusable for extended periods of time until the spilt chemical has been thoroughly removed.

Environmental Effects

Last but not least, chemical spills can have major environmental impacts.

  • Spilled oil and other chemicals can physically damage marine life with run-off contamination in the water. A large spill of caustic soda into the Cheakamus River in the U.S. killed half a million fish in 2005.
  • Spilt chemicals can also run-off into soil, causing severe ecological damage and making such areas inhabitable for flora and fauna.

In general, all the negative effects of chemical spills can be amplified and even caused by slow chemical spill responses in schools, universities, or workplaces. The larger the spread of the spilt chemical, the worse the potential damage, making quick and safe spill containment a priority.

A Quick and Effective Spill Response Plan

Organizations should take the following steps to ensure a prompt and safe chemical spill response that minimizes the impact of all chemical spills.

Assessing Safety

An important factor in swift chemical clean up is the ability of employees to understand the severity of a spill and assess the safety of the spill site. If an immediate threat is posed, the area in which the spill occurred should be evacuated immediately. Furthermore, fire and medical personnel should be notified as soon as possible about large spills that are too difficult to clean with standard chemical cleanup kits. For incidental spills, immediately initiate standard chemical clean up procedures.

PPE Equipment

Anyone involved in chemical clean up should immediately put on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) appropriate for the chemical and the hazard(s) it presents. In some instances, a respirator must be used as PPE.

Stop the Spill

Minimizing the spread of any chemical spill is vital in mitigating the risk of further damage. The most important thing is to stop the flow of liquid—if a container with a hazardous chemical inside has fallen over, set the container upright, otherwise, put a cap or putty over the opening from which a chemical is leaking. Additionally, shut down any sources of heat or ignition for flammable chemical spills or leaks.

Use a Spill Kit

After stopping or controlling the chemical flow, contain the spill using a spill kit, including absorbent pads and pillows. Ensure pads and other spill kit components that have soaked up chemicals are correctly disposed of in hazardous waste bags or containers. Once the site is clear of chemical spillage, clean the spill area with soap and water to remove any chemical residue.

The importance of dealing with chemical spills quickly cannot be overstated. Any prudent contingency plan for dealing with chemical spills must not be limited to merely preventing spills from occurring—accidents happen, and when they do, prompt chemical clean up can save lives.

Note that chemical storage is a vital aspect of reducing the risk of chemical spills, and chemicals should always be stored in appropriate chemical storage containers.

When a chemical spill happens, a swift response involving the use of spill trays and bunds can contain such spills and prevent them from causing significant damage.

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