Radioactive Material Spills in the Laboratory by Corey Wintamute, Research Safety Specialist

While no one plans to have a spill or accident in their laboratory, they do still occur. When a spill happens it can be very stressful, but if handled properly, can be nothing more than a minor nuisance. Whether working with radioactive materials, hazardous chemicals, or biological materials, it is important to know the proper procedures for dealing with a spill in your laboratory.

When working with radioactive materials in the laboratory, using safe work practices can help reduce the chance of a spill happening. Some simple safe work practices include:

  • Always wear appropriate PPE, including proper laboratory work attire, and keep an extra set of clothes available in the event of contamination
  • Keep workstations clean and free of clutter
  • Protect bench tops with bench paper/absorbent pads
  • Store liquid waste containers in secondary containment
  • Check waste containers often; ensure that waste containers are not full before starting work
  • Keep containers (waste, stock, etc.) closed at all times when not in use

In the event your laboratory does have a radioactive material spill, would you know what to do? While spill response is covered in Radiation Safety Training, when a spill actually occurs, many people find themselves uncertain of how to act. Initial efforts should be directed at minimizing personnel exposure and containing the spread of contamination. The following procedures will be useful in the event of a spill in the laboratory:

  • Stop all work. Notify personnel in the area that a spill has occurred
  • Contact EH&S and notify the Radiation Safety Officer of the spill
  • Prevent the spread of contamination by covering the spill with absorbent paper
  • Remove all personnel from immediate spill area to safe meeting area in or near the lab
  • Check all personnel for skin and clothing contamination with an operable survey instrument; remove contaminated clothing and decontaminate personnel

For more information about spill procedures, contact

Lauren Kelly Recognized by Public Safety

Congratulations to Lauren Kelly, EH&S’s Hazardous Materials Program Manager, on receiving the Exceptional Service Award from Columbia University Public Safety.  Lauren received the award on February 20, 2014 at the Public Safety Annual Promotion, Awards and Recognition Ceremony.   The award was presented to Lauren for collaboration and leadership, on behalf of EH&S, over the past 8 years assisting Public Safety in preparing for emergency incidents and hazardous materials events through the development and delivery of a comprehensive training program. Her partnership with Public Safety led to a presentation at a national conference, where she was joined by Patrick Danville, Public Safety’s Assistant Director of Training and Development, highlighting the benefits of a close collaboration between EH&S and Public Safety departments. Well done Lauren!  

Columbia University EH&S has joined Twitter!twitter
In our continuing effort to ensure the Columbia University Community has the most up to date information
on all matters related to health and safety both within and outside of the organization, EH&S is happy to announce the
launch of our official Department twitter account. Following us is easy: you can follow our account (@ColumbiaEHS)
from Twitter or through the easy access link on our home page at

Vision Statement

Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) provides expert guidance and timely service to the University Community through our commitment to health and safety. Employing best practices and collaboration, and by building long term relationships, we promote a productive and safety conscious work environment

sweat Editorial Staff: Kathleen Crowley, Chris Pettinato, Chris Pitoscia
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