Pesticide Spills and Cleanup

Handling Spills

The best way to handle a spill is to prevent it from happening. Review your process for using, transporting, and storing pesticides to identify areas for additional training or precautions. Train workers to take the necessary actions if a spill should occur. Prior training on how to limit a spill and then safely clean it up is invaluable. Accidents most commonly happen when pesticides are being transported or when pesticide containers have leaked in storage.

Pesticide spills require immediate action. Keep a spill cleanup kit immediately available at all locations where pesticides are handled, transported, or stored, because you will not have time to locate all the necessary items before a significant amount of contamination has occurred. Important items in a typical spill kit include:

  • Telephone numbers for emergency assistance
  • Personal protective clothing and equipment as required by the label, including:
    • Sturdy gloves, footwear, and apron that are chemically resistant to most pesticides
    • Protective eyewear
    • An appropriate respirator, if any of the pesticides requires using a respirator during handling or for spill cleanup
  • Containment "snakes" to confine the leak or spill to a small area
  • Absorbent materials such as spill pillows, absorbent clay, dry peat moss, sawdust, "kitty litter," activated charcoal, vermiculite, or paper to soak up liquid spills
  • Sweeping compound to keep dry spills from drifting or wafting during cleanup
  • A shovel, broom, and dustpan made from non-sparking and nonreactive material (foldable brooms and shovels are handy because they can be carried easily)
  • Heavy-duty detergent
  • Fire extinguisher rated for all types of fires
  • Any other spill cleanup items specified on the labeling of any products you use regularly
  • Sturdy plastic container that will hold the entire volume of the largest pesticide container being handled and that can be tightly closed
  • Highway flares (do NOT use flares near flammable material)

All these items should be stored in the sturdy plastic container and kept easily accessible, clean, and in working order until a spill occurs.

Response to a pesticide spill may vary with size and location of the spill.

You must know how to respond correctly to a spill. Stopping large leaks or spills is often not simple. If you cannot manage a spill by yourself, get help. Even a spill that appears to be minor can endanger you, other people, and the environment if not handled correctly. Never leave a spill unattended. When in doubt, get help.

The faster you can contain, absorb, and dispose of a spill, the less chance it will cause harm. Clean up spills immediately. Even minor dribbles or spills should be cleaned up as soon as possible to keep unprotected persons or animals from being exposed.

A good way to remember the steps for a spill emergency is the "three C's": Control, Contain, Clean up.

  1. Control the spill situation: Protect yourself, stop the leak, protect others, and stay at the site.
  2. Contain the spill: Confine the spill, protect water sources, absorb liquids, and cover dry materials.
  3. Clean up the spill, decontaminate the spill site, neutralize spill site, decontaminate equipment, and decontaminate your PPE.

Reporting Spills

Report pesticide spills as well as pesticide-related fires and poisonings first to 9-1-1 for immediate response. Then report to the appropriate number below.

Idaho Report all spills, fires, and poisonings to the EMS dispatcher: 800-632-8000 (in Idaho only).

Oregon Report spills to the Oregon Emergency Response System: 800-452-0311 (in Oregon) 503-378-6377 (Salem area)

Washington Report all spills, fires, and poisonings to the Department of Emergency Management: 800-258-5990.

Report spills or discharges from containment areas to the nearest regional office of the Department of Ecology; find locations online at

Additional help with chemical emergencies, including pesticide emergencies involving spills, leaks, fires, or exposures, can be obtained from the Chemical Transportation Emergency Center: CHEMTREC, 800-424-9300