Environmental, Health and Safety Services

Spill Response for Biological Materials

Minor Biological Spills

A spill of lesser volume and/or with agents of lesser pathogenicity, for which cleanup can usually be handled by lab personnel using absorbent materials/ disinfectants routinely kept on the bench or in lab spill kits.

General Response Procedure:
  1. Immediately inform coworkers that a spill has occurred.
  2. Remove any contaminated PPE or clothing.
  3. If possible without risking exposure, quickly place absorbent material (such as paper towels) on the spill to prevent spread and seepage in the next 30 minutes.
  4. Restrict personnel access to spill area for 30 minutes for aerosols to settle.
  5. Report the spill to a supervisor as soon as possible.
  6. If you are trained, able and equipped to handle the spill, and you have determined that it is not a major spill (beyond your scope to handle), proceed with cleanup.
General Cleanup Procedure
  1. Use supplies from biological spill kit, or from the bench.
  2. Don clean PPE (one or two pairs of gloves, apron or gown, shoe covers if needed). If splash protection is needed, don goggles and/or faceshield. If respiratory protection is needed and you have been trained and fit-tested to use it, don the appropriate respirator.
  3. Cover spill with absorbent paper towels. Start at edge of spill and work inward.
  4. Apply disinfectant to the towels and let sit for 10 minutes (or for the specific contact time needed for the disinfectant you are using). Use full strength disinfectant on larger spills.
  5. Remove any sharps from the spill with tongs, forceps, cardboard, dustpan, etc. – not your hands – and discard into biosharps container.
  6. You can remove soaked towels with tongs, especially if small bits of glass are still in spill area; discard soaked towels as chemical waste.
  7. Apply disinfectant again to the spill area. Wipe dry or allow to air dry.
  8. Remove PPE carefully in this order, and avoiding direct touch to contaminated PPE surfaces: shoe covers, gloves, lab coat, face/eye protection. Discard in autoclave bag, and wash your hands.
  9. Inform coworkers that spill cleanup is complete.
    • Chemical disinfectants require contact time with the spill to effectively decontaminate it. Be aware of the specific contact time of the disinfectant you use and allow that time to elapse before clean-up.
    • For metal surfaces, follow all bleach disinfectant treatments with a water rinse.
    • If a chemical disinfectant is not used (or cannot be used) with contaminated items, decontaminate by autoclaving or other method approved by EHS if items can withstand the process (e.g., contaminated lab coats).

MAJOR Biological Spills

  • A major spill is one which, in your judgment, could represent a significant environmental risk or serious human health risk as a result of release or exposure,
  • and/or is a larger-volume spill of biohazardous agents or recombinant/synthetic nucleic acids which is beyond the capacity and training of lab personnel to safely execute cleanup, and will require cleanup by haz-mat professionals.

How do I decide if a spill is major or minor?


  • pathogenicity,
  • concentration, and
  • aerosol hazard and/or environmental hazard of the agent(s) in the material, and
  • the volume of the spilled material

when making this decision. Consult the risk assessment(s) for the agent(s) if necessary, but make the decision as quickly as possible.


  1. Immediately notify everyone in the lab /area and clear the area of all personnel.
  2. Secure the area as needed by locking doors, standing guard to keep people out, posting signs, etc.
  3. If possible, quickly place whatever absorbent material is at hand to lessen spread or seepage, but only if this can be done without increasing your exposure risk significantly beyond its current level.
  4. Call 911 or 231-6411 for VT Campus Police; ask for EHS to be informed immediately.
  5. Inform your PI or Lab Manager/Supervisor as soon as you possibly can.
  6. You are not responsible for trying to clean up a major spill, or arranging for the cleanup of a major spill. In some cases, EHS evaluates major spill situations and schedules the appropriate hazardous material response crews or contractors; in other instances, hazmat teams are dispatched via a 911 call.

Biological Spill Kits

  • Contents should be contained within a handled, lidded bucket and include:
    • disposable lab coat or coveralls
    • disposable gloves
    • face shield/mask
    • disposable shoe protectors
    • spray disinfectant
    • clean-up supplies (forceps, dustpan, autoclave bags, spill pillows & socks)
    • sign that reads "Biohazard Spill DO NOT ENTER".
  • Ensure that sufficient quantities of materials (on bench, and/or in spill kit) are always available to clean up the maximum spill volume that could be anticipated in your lab.
  • If a respiratory hazard has been identified through risk assessment of the BSL-2 agents used in the area, respirators must be provided separately by the laboratory for use in spill situations. N-95 respirators must be fit-tested by EHS. Contact EHS to arrange.
  • The Biological Spill Kit should be well-labeled, and a wall sign should indicate the location of the Biological Spill Kit in the lab so it can be located quickly, particularly if it is kept under the bench.
  • All personnel working with BSL-2 materials must receive training by the PI or designee for Biohazard Spill Kit use.

Further Information and Guidance:

BMBL, 5th Ed.
University Biosafety Manual
EHS Biosafety Group