Corrosive Waste Spill

August 31, 2015

What Happened?

A UC Berkeley researcher was working in a lab with a highly corrosive sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide (piranha) solution to clean the surface of a glass sample in a fume hood.

After completing the work, the researcher found the existing waste container to be greater than 75 percent full. Rather than add the recently used piranha solution to the already overfilled waste container, the researcher found an additional empty waste container and attempted to pour off some of the overfilled waste into the empty bottle.

During this attempt, some of the corrosive material spilled inside the hood. Moments later, the researcher’s arm felt “itchy”. The researcher removed all personal protective equipment (PPE) including a face shield, splash goggles, sleeveless chemical apron, lab coat, nitrile and rubber butyl gloves, and immediately irrigated the affected area for 15 minutes.

Other lab members neutralized the spill inside the hood and on the lab coat. The researcher was escorted by a colleague to the Tang Center and treated for two small burns. After returning from the medical center, the researcher was able to make contact with emergency response professionals.

What went right?

  • Emergency protocol was followed after the incident took place including irrigation of the affected area, contacting of emergency personnel, and neutralization of the spill.
  • The lab used the Chemical Hygiene Plan to locate the correct emergency response contact information.
  • The researcher was wearing the personal protective equipment (PPE) specified in the standard operating procedure (SOP)1.
  • The researcher noted that the waste container was overfilled before adding any new solution to it.

What should have been done differently?

  • The lab did not have an established policy on how to handle overfilled waste containers.
  • The waste container did not have a maximum fill line marked. Maximum fill lines provide clarity on how much waste can be added to a bottle. This is particularly important when using an amber colored bottle which can make the noting of volume levels more difficult.
  • Though the injured researcher called the emergency response line after being treated, the researcher’s colleagues had already unsuccessfully attempted to call an emergency response line immediately after the incident occurred. Unfortunately, the emergency response greeting was not listened to in its entirety, and the necessary prompt to “press 1” to be connected to the emergency response team was never heard.
fume hood designated for piranha solution

Photo 1 - A fume hood designated for piranha solution