Hazardous Material Spills

A hazardous material spill is an uncontrolled release of a substance that is potentially hazardous to humans, animals and/or the environment. University personnel and students working with hazardous materials should be prepared to respond in the event a spill occurs.

Emergency spill response

If you witness a hazardous material spill that endangers people or may lead to a fire, follow these emergency procedures:

  • Activate the fire alarm system. Pull the nearest fire alarm to evacuate the building.
  • Call 9-1-1 as soon as you are safe. Report any details you know about the spill, such as location, material and physical state (e.g., liquid, powder), quantity spilled, and any known hazardous characteristics.
  • Provide information such as the safety data sheet (SDS) or a chemical inventory to the local fire department once they arrive. The fire department will stabilize the spill but might not clean it up.
  • Contact the Environmental Health & Safety Spill Line at 206.543.0467 for assistance with contacting a spill cleanup contractor. Outside of business hours or on weekends, contact the UW Police Department at 206.685.8973 from any campus and ask the dispatcher to contact the EH&S Staff On-Call.

Follow the instructions on the Spill Response Poster for biological, chemical and radiological releases.

Follow the instructions on the Exposure Response Poster if an exposure has occurred.

Non-emergency spill response

S.W.I.M. for all spills

S: Stop the spill. Cover with absorbent material.

W: Warn others. Alert people in the immediate area of the spill.

I: Isolate the spill and secure the area. Close doors if possible.

M: Minimize your exposure by wearing PPE and avoiding contact, inhalation or ingestion. Vacate the area if necessary. Wash hands after handling spill materials.

Report spills

Prevent and prepare for spills

University units that use, store, handle and/or transport hazardous materials should prevent and be prepared to respond to a spill by doing all of the following:

  1. Get a spill kit. General chemical spill kits are available from Chemistry StockroomBiochemistry Stores and through Procurement Services.
  2. Place the Spill Response and Exposure Response posters in a visible location.
  3. Follow standard operating procedures for all hazardous materials that include procedures for safe handing, use, storage, transport, disposal and spill response.
  4. Make safety data sheets available to all individuals working in or near the area where hazardous materials are used or stored.
  5. Properly label and store hazardous materials and hazardous waste.
  6. Safely dispose of chemicals, biohazardous waste, radioactive waste and other hazardous materials and equipment.
  7. Contact EH&S before pouring anything, including soaps, cleaners, chemicals, grease, oil, food waste and paint into or near a sewer or stormwater drain.

Services available

EH&S is available to help University personnel and students prevent accidental spills and releases while handling, storing, and transporting hazardous materials.

EH&S is available for consultation on:

  • Ordering a spill kit
  • Developing SOPs that include safe handling, transport, and storage of hazardous materials
  • Hazardous material spill response and clean-up

In addition, contact EH&S if you will be doing any of the following activities at any UW location; these activities could lead to pollution ending up in stormwater drains:

  • Painting or staining
  • Pressure washing
  • Changing oil in a vehicle or heavy equipment
  • Washing a vehicle or heavy equipment
  • Snow removal, de-icing or anti-icing
  • Applying fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides
  • Moving or digging large amounts of dirt
  • Removing vegetation
  • Cleaning up after an outdoor event where food and beverages were served
  • Throwing or spreading confetti, glitter or powdered pigments


If you are working with hazardous chemicals, take the Managing Laboratory Chemicals-Online training course, which covers essential chemical spill prevention and response information. This course is required for all UW faculty, staff, and students who work in laboratories where hazardous chemicals are present.