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What to Do after a Spill

Keep people safe. Identify what's spilled. Find out if warning signs are needed.

What to Do First

Keep People Safe

  • Avoid direct contact with the spilled material.
  • Avoid inhalation of any gases, fumes, vapors, or smoke. All personnel should stay upwind (some gases inhibit the sense of smell or may be dangerous at undetectable concentrations).
  • Move and keep people away from the incident scene. Contact the nearest law-enforcement authority for assistance, if necessary.
  • Find and, if possible, safely remove all ignition sources.
  • Assess the situation with regard to injuries.
  • Contact the appropriate authorities and responsible parties and allow them to handle the response.

Substance Identification

If you can't determine a substance spilled from information available at the site, call CHEMTREC at 800-424-9300 (emergency) or 800-262-8200 (non-emergency).

  • Vehicle operators should be able to identify the materials they are carrying. Locate and question operators as soon as possible regarding the contents of their vehicle.
  • Shipping papers identifying any substances involved should be in operators' possession and will also identify the shipper, consignee, and manufacturer.
  • United Nations (UN) or North American (NA) material-identification numbers. A black four-digit identification number may be found directly on warning placards or on individual orange panels on the tank, vehicle, or railcar ends. These numbers are generic hazard category codes that can be identified from the latest U.S. Department of Transportation Emergency Response Guidebook or by contacting CHEMTREC.
  • Information on containers, in certain situations, will identify their contents or the shipper.
  • The shipping firm or railway company involved in the incident should be able to identify the contents of its vehicle. Trucks and trains often have unique identification numbers. By contacting the company involved, either directly or through CHEMTREC, and giving the identification numbers when available, you should be able to identify the contents.

If direct identification is impossible, or if any of the above methods of identification are prohibitively time-consuming or unsafe, ascertain as many of the chemical and physical properties of the substance as possible. Contact CHEMTREC and give them that information to help identify the material. Ascertain the following:

  • color
  • physical state (gas, liquid or solid)
  • odor (do not smell the material intentionally, but a description of the odor may be available through unintentional exposure)
  • any noticeable sound
  • abnormal or extreme heat
  • abnormal or extreme cold (presence of frost)
  • pressure leaks
  • color of flame (if present)

Posting of Warning Signs

The threat posed by contamination from a discharge or spill may warrant the placement of Contaminated Area warning signs by TCEQ personnel on affected property.