CEU Series: Avoid Mishaps When Handling Pesticides

Contain the Spill or Leak

At the same time that the leak is being controlled, contain the already spilled material in as small an area as possible. Do everything possible to keep it from spreading or getting worse. In some situations, you may need to use a shovel or power equipment to construct a dike or dam. The most important thing to do is try to not let the spilled material get into any body of water, including storm sewers or drains.

If the chemical contaminates a stream, pond, or any other waterway contact the Florida Department of Environmental Protection – Florida Pollution Prevention Program (1-800-741-4337). Do not delay in notifying authorities because they must alert downstream users as soon as possible to prevent accidental poisoning of livestock and to avoid contamination of irrigated crops and soil.

You can further contain liquid spills by spreading absorbent materials such as fine sand, vermiculite, clay, or pet litter over the entire spill. Avoid using sawdust or sweeping compounds if the pesticide is a strong oxidizer (see label or SDS) because such a combination may present a possible fire hazard. In addition, absorbent materials packed in pillows, tubes, or pads can be placed directly on the spill or used to dike around the spill area. Waste disposal is then simplified because the contaminated pillows, tubes, or pads can be placed into heavy-duty disposal bags without dust or spillage. Keep adding absorbent material to the contaminated area until all the liquid is soaked up.

In the case of dust, wettable powder, or granular spills, you can reduce spreading by lightly misting the material with water or covering the spill using some type of plastic cover. After covering the dry material with a tarp or plastic, pick up the tarp in a small area at a time and use a broom and/or shovel to sweep up the material. Discard the cover after use. Disposal of all hazardous wastes must be done in strict accordance with state and federal laws.

Clean Up the Spill

Once the spill has been contained, sweep it up the absorbent material and place it in a steel or fiber drum lined with a heavy-duty plastic bag. It may then be necessary to decontaminate or neutralize the area. Use ordinary household bleach in water (approximately 30% bleach), hydrated lime, or a commercial decontamination preparation to help neutralize the spill area. Check the SDS to see if there are recommendations for use of specific decontaminants. Remember to wear protective equipment. Do not use bleach and lime together. Work this cleaning material into the spill area using a coarse broom. Then add fresh absorbent material to soak up the now contaminated cleaning solution. Sweep up this material and place it in a plastic bag or drum for disposal. It will be necessary to repeat this procedure several times to ensure that the area has been thoroughly decontaminated.

If at all possible, assess the volume of spilled material, review label and application rates, and then apply the spilled product as a legal application. Use of the product, though not necessarily for pest control, is legal and allows the material to breakdown under normal application conditions; thus, negating the need to handle the material as an expensive hazardous waste. If application is not possible, dispose of the material as a hazardous or non-hazardous waste depending on the product.

The only effective way to decontaminate soil saturated with a pesticide is to remove the soil down to the depth of contamination. This contaminated soil is now considered hazardous waste and must be disposed of according to state guidelines. Once the contamination has been removed, cover the area with at least 2 inches of lime or a material recommended by the SDS, and finally, cover the lime with fresh topsoil. Soils contaminated as the result of application errors or minor spills can sometimes be cleaned up by applying activated charcoal to the contaminated surface immediately after the spill or misapplication. The charcoal may adsorb or tie up enough chemical to avoid significant plant injury and long-term contamination. However, application of activated charcoal to areas where large spills have occurred does little to reduce soil contamination and subsequent plant damage.

Porous materials such as wood may not be adequately decontaminated. If contamination is great enough to warrant, they must be removed and replaced with new materials.

Nonporous surfaces should be washed with detergent and water. The appropriate decontamination solution should be thoroughly worked into the surface using a long-handled broom, scrub brush, or other equipment as needed. Then the decontamination solution is soaked up using absorbent material. The spent absorbent material is then placed into a labeled leakproof container for disposal.

Clean any vehicles and equipment that were contaminated either as a result of the original accident or during the cleanup and disposal procedures. Before you begin, be sure you are properly clothed and protected to avoid contact with the chemical. Use ordinary household bleach in water (approximately 30%  bleach) or an alkaline detergent (dishwashing soap) solution to clean your equipment. Do not mix bleach and alkaline detergent together. All tools and surfaces must be thoroughly rinsed with sparing amounts of clean water. All rinse water and spent decontamination solution should be collected in drip pans or other suitable containers and transferred to a properly labeled leakproof drum for disposal. Equipment such as brooms, leather shoes, and cloth hats cannot be effectively decontaminated and must be discarded. Also, do not save disposable garments and gloves or badly contaminated clothing. As soon as you are finished with the spill and equipment cleanup, wash yourself thoroughly with soap and water. Wash any part of your skin that might have been exposed and always wash your face, neck, hands, and forearms.

All contaminated materials, including cloth, soil, wood, etc., that cannot be effectively decontaminated as described in this guide must be removed and placed in a sealed leakproof container. All containers must be properly labeled and transported in accordance with Department of Transportation (DOT) 49 CFR Part 172 regulations by EPA-permitted hazardous waste haulers for disposal in a hazardous waste disposal facility (incinerator, landfill site, etc.) under current EPA or state permit.

For legal protection, it is advisable to keep records of your activities and conversations with regulatory authorities, emergency response personnel, and the general public when dealing with a pesticide spill. Take photographs to document any damage as well as the cleanup process. This is another good reason to have a cellular phone available.

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