Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Chemical Spills

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Appendix A: Safety and Emergencies > Chemical Spills


Before you clean up a chemical spill, protect yourself, people nearby, and water sources. If there are people who are more prepared than you to clean up a spill (people who have been trained to do this work), call them for help. Always wear protective clothing to clean up chemicals!

Small chemical spills

If a small amount of chemicals is spilled, it is important to control, contain, and clean the spill before anyone is hurt, and before the chemicals get into waterways or soak into the ground.

A man reaches for a can labelled with a skull and crossbones that is leaking liquid.
Control the spill

The most important thing is to keep the spill from getting bigger. Shut down any leaking equipment, turn a fallen container right side up, or put the leaking container inside an unbroken container.



Contain the spill

Absorb the chemicals by putting soil, sand, sawdust, clay or other material on the spill. If the material may blow around, cover it with a cloth or plastic sheet.

A man shovels material onto a spill.
A man reaches for a can labelled with a skull and crossbones that is leaking liquid.
Clean up the spill

Scoop materials into barrels or thick plastic containers. Do not use water because it will spread the chemicals and make the problem worse. Dispose of the material safely.

Large chemical spills

In oil drilling areas, work sites, and industrial areas where large amounts of chemicals are used or transported, it is important to be prepared for a large chemical spill.

  • Make an emergency plan with workers, employers, and people living nearby. Hold regular meetings to make sure everyone is familiar with the plan.
  • Post names and telephone numbers of people to contact in case of a spill. Include employers, clinics and hospitals, safety officials, government authorities, health workers and people trained to clean spills.
  • Keep instructions, materials, and protective equipment for cleaning spills at the site.
  • Plan and mark an escape route from the area.
  • Have a supply of safe water to use in case oil or other chemicals contaminate the community water supply.



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