Summer 2011

Chemical Decontamination

traingleHopefully you are familiar with our hazardous spill response acronym ESCAPE that is taught during our Laboratory Safety Training: Evacuate the lab, Shut the doors to the lab, Call 911 from a campus phone or 274-7911 from a cell phone, Assess the situation, Pull the fire alarm if it is determined that the spill will create a situation that is immediately dangerous to the life or health of the building occupants and finally Evacuate the building if the fire alarm has been pulled. However, many times we forget or are not familiar with what to do if we are exposed to a hazardous chemical. Please click on the link below to view the steps that should be taken if you are exposed to a hazardous chemical in the laboratory.

Hopefully you are already familiar with the chemicals in your laboratory, have read the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for the chemicals in your laboratory and know the location of the MSDSs for the chemicals in your laboratory. This pre-planning is essential. Once you have been exposed to a chemical the more you know about the chemical prior to exposure the more prepared you will be to respond if exposed.

First and foremost is to flush the exposed area with copious amounts of water for 15 minutes in a safe environment. If it is an ocular exposure then use the eyewash. Hold both eyes open in the stream of water for a full 15 minutes. If it is a small exposure area to the hand or arm then flush the exposed area with copious amounts of water in the laboratory sink for 15 minutes. Again, a full 15 minutes, don't skimp. If there is a large area of exposure or an exposed area that cannot be decontaminated in the sink such as legs and thighs then stand underneath the emergency shower, pull the handle and immediately remove any contaminated clothing while flushing the body with copious amounts of water from the shower. Again, flush for a full 15 minutes. On a side note I should prepare you for the flooding that will occur from the activation of the emergency shower. An emergency shower flow rate is 20 gallons of water per minute. If you stand under the shower the full 15 minutes that equals 300 gallons of water. This water will flood the lab but you are not to be concerned about the flooding (this is another reason we don't like to see materials stored on the floor in labs) your only concern is to flush the exposed area for 15 minutes.

After flushing the exposed area, what next? Unfortunately many think that once they have flushed the exposed area they are done. This is not true. The next step is to contact IUPUI Health Services, inform them of the exposure, ask for any additional instructions and then report immediately to IUPUI Health Services located on the first floor of Coleman Hall. If it is a major exposure with activation of the emergency shower then you should also call 911 from a campus phone just as you would a chemical spill and inform them that you have activated the shower and also inform them of the name of the chemical you were exposed to as well as an approximate volume of chemical. Leave all contaminated clothing in the laboratory for collection by the HAZMAT team. If the exposure occurs on a holiday, weekend or after hours then report to University Hospital Emergency Department. Never make the mistake of driving home and attempting to decontaminate yourself at home. A Boston College Chemistry Student was recently exposed to thionyl chloride and drove home to take a shower. The University contacted Boston Fire department who went to the student's home and utilized a mobile decontamination unit in the student's front yard to decontaminate the student. The fire department then decontaminated the student's car and home. Please be aware that if there is a large exposure then there is the potential for the need to be decontaminated before treatment to prevent exposure to the personnel treating you. A mobile decontamination process involves removal of clothing and a series of showers inside of a decontamination unit. Keep in mind that the individuals performing the decontamination are all trained professionals and they will make every attempt to ensure others cannot see what is going on. Once decontaminated you pose no risk to the emergency personnel and they can begin treating you. Also at some point you will be required to fill out an Occupational Injury/Illness report to document the incident.

Finally I want to talk a little bit about antidotes. A few highly toxic chemicals require antidotes to be present such as cyanide salts which requires a cyanide antidote kit or hydrofluoric acid which requires calcium gluconate to be on hand. Make sure you are aware of the location and use of these antidotes before working with the chemicals.

In summary your response to a chemical exposure is just as important as your response to a chemical spill. Many times a spill with an exposure can occur in which you will need to follow both emergency procedures. If you are exposed to a hazardous chemical make sure you flush the exposed area for 15 minutes with copious amounts of water, then you should report the exposure and seek medical treatment immediately after flushing.