Dealing with Pesticide Spills

A spill is an accidental release of any amount of pesticide, small or large. Spills on public highways, such as when a tank on a truck overturns, usually have major consequences. Failure to respond quickly and appropriately to such mishaps could seriously endanger public health and environmental quality. Always put on the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) before responding to a spill.

If a Spill Occurs

In the event of a pesticide spill, follow the three Cs: CONTROL the spill, CONTAIN it, and CLEAN it up.

Control the Spill

  • Act immediately to control the spilled product. Never leave the site unattended.
  • Place small leaking containers into larger ones.
  • If a larger container (such as a drum) is leaking, try to plug the leak. Then, transfer the contents to another container.
  • Turn off the pump to stop leaks from pressurized systems (such as sprayers).

Contain the Spill 

Do all you can to keep the spill from spreading or getting worse.

  • Prevent the material from entering surface water: using a shovel, quickly berm-off an area to keep the spilled pesticide out of drains and waterways. A spill that is contained on the surface is much easier to clean than one that has entered a body of water.
  • If the spilled pesticide does contaminate a stream, pond, or other waterway, immediately contact the state regulatory agencies responsible for streams and fisheries and for pesticides. Do not delay notifying the authorities. They need time to alert downstream users who draw surface water for drinking, prevent accidental poisoning of livestock, evacuate people using the water for recreational purposes (such as swimming and fishing), and avoid contamination of irrigated crops. Call the manufacturer’s emergency number on the product Safety Data Sheet (SDS) to find out what steps you or the emergency response coordinator should take to lessen the dangers of water contamination.
  • Call 911 to report the spill and be ready to respond to the authorities arriving at the scene. Be sure to have the product label and SDS available for emergency responders. After the spill has been contained, follow your emergency plan. In some cases, the applicator will call the emergency responder, who will then call the proper authorities.

Clean up the Spill

The last step is to clean up the spilled product.

  • Sweep up any absorbent materials and other contaminated items and place them in a drum.
  • If the spill occurred on concrete or asphalt, you will have to neutralize the surface. Follow the instructions on the SDS or contact the manufacturer, whose number is listed on the data sheet.
  • The Kentucky Department of Agriculture will tell you what to do when the spill occurs on soil. For example, they may require that the top 2 to 3 inches of soil be excavated, removed, and replaced with clean soil.
  • Keep records of your activities and conversations with regulatory authorities, emergency responders, news media, and the public when dealing with a pesticide spill. Photographs help document any related damage as well as steps you have taken to clean up the spilled product.

Preventing Spills 

A key to reducing the likelihood of any spill is to properly maintain your application equipment and transport vehicles. Leaks and drips from cracked hoses or loose hose clamps clearly indicate problems. Defensive driving techniques and refraining from cellphone use while driving are two important habits that can prevent vehicle accidents that might result in a spill.

Spill Clean-up Kit

Keep a spill clean-up kit in each pesticide transport vehicle and at the site where pesticides are mixed, loaded, and stored. Store your spill kit items in a plastic container, and keep them clean and in working order.

Include the following items in a spill response kit:

  • Telephone numbers for emergency assistance.
  • Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) as designated on the product label
  • Absorbent materials, such as spill pillows, absorbent clay, and cat litter.
  • A shovel, broom, and dustpan.
  • Heavy-duty detergent.

Figure 1. Have materials available to contain and cleanup spills (Photo: CropwatchUN-L Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources)

Figure 2. Absorbent material is an important part of a spill kit (Photo: CropwatchUN-L Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources)




By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist


Posted in Pesticide Topics