Liquid Spills

 In 2022, Tip of the Week

There are some things you should know about hazardous liquids in general that can help you and give you a better understanding of the importance of cleaning up spills. Consider this, when something is on fire, what burns? The material itself does not burn; it is the vapors that burn. The more vapors that are present the greater the potential for a fire.

Spills have dimensions. A two dimensional is stationary and is measured by the length and width of the spill. This is not necessarily an emergency. This type of spill is easily contained and cleaned up. However, a three-dimensional spill has length, width, and movement. The movement expands the surface area of the liquid, which means that more vapors are present increasing the potential for a fire, particularly if the material is flammable or combustible. This is more likely to be an emergency, and the spill must be contained quickly.

Let’s go back to our example of acetic acid, mentioned above. It has a flash point of around 104 degrees F. That means, if some spilled acid is near something that could heat it up to 104 degrees, it may catch on fire. This type of spill could be problematic. So, what should you do, and what should you not do? Here are 4 do’s and one don’t.

DO: Have inert absorbent materials or portable barriers, often called “pigs,” available. You will want to have a container that closes for the cleaned-up absorbent materials.

DO: Use appropriate controls. This means you need to read the SDS in advance. When it has spilled, you won’t have time, and it will be too late. If you want to look at an SDS for acetic acid, here’s a link:

DO: have secondary containment around large drums of acid to contain a spill before it becomes a problem.

DO: Provide training for employees who are expected to clean up spills. If you, as an employer expect employees to clean up spills, you are required to make sure they know how to do it safely.

DON’T: Put water on an acid spill. It might seem like adding water to dilute the acid would be a good idea. But it does not work that way. The amount of water needed to reduce the acidity of an acid is exponential. It takes 1,000,000 times the amount of acid spilled to reduce the acidity of an acid from 0 on the pH scale to neutral at 7 on the same scale. That would be a huge problem!

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