G2038 Index: Pesticides, General Safety

Issued September 2010

Revised October 2016

Managing Pesticide Spills

Clyde L. Ogg, Extension Educator

Frank J. Bright, Extension Assistant

Greg J. Puckett, Extension Assistant

Jan R. Hygnstrom, Project Manager

Cheryl A. Alberts, Project Coordinator

This NebGuide describes the steps to follow after a pesticide spill to promote safe and effective management and to avoid human toxicity or environmental contamination.

No one expects to have a pesticide spill, but being prepared to manage one is part of practicing good pesticide safety. Protecting human health and the environment is essential. Pesticides are toxic to humans and other living organisms as well as to the pests they control. Exposure to pesticides, whether during the mixing and application process or during a spill, poses a risk to human health. Pesticide spills also can be a direct threat to the environment by leaching into groundwater, contaminating surface water, persisting in the soil, or harming nontarget plants and animals.

There are three common ways pesticide spills occur: during storage or transportation, when mixing the spray solution, or during application. Pesticide spills during storage or transportation can be due to damaged containers or a vehicle accident (see Safe Transport, Storage, and Disposal of Pesticides [EC2507] for more on safe transport of pesticides). Spills during the mixing process often can be attributed to human error, while spills during application often are caused by equipment malfunction. Pesticide spills can range from very minor, like a single leaking pesticide container, to a major spill, such as a tanker truck accident. No matter the cause or size of the spill, being prepared to manage it is important.

Spill Management

Proper training in handling pesticides is the number one way to prevent spills. It is important that all those involved in the use of pesticides be trained on how to correctly transport, store, mix and apply, and dispose of pesticides, as well as how to properly respond to and manage a pesticide spill. See the Resources at the end of this NebGuide for more information on preventing pesticide spills.

If a spill occurs, protecting the environment and human health is the primary goal. Following guidelines like the Three C’s, referring to the pesticide label, and contacting the appropriate agencies to report the spill will help achieve this goal.

The Three C’s

The Three C’s—Control, Contain, Clean Up—provide guidelines for managing a pesticide spill. The Three C’s provide a way to quickly organize after a pesticide spill, whether it occurred during transport, storage, mixing and loading, or application. Also consider where the spill has occurred when preparing to manage it. Managing a pesticide spill on soil may be different than a spill that occurs on a concrete loading pad.

In addition to cleaning the area where the spill occurred, be sure to clean any equipment used in the cleanup process. Be sure that hands, clothing, and any other exposed skin are washed as soon as possible with soap and water. If only water is available, be sure to rinse repeatedly and then wash with soap and water as soon as possible.

Remember the PPE

In the chaos of an emergency, it can be easy to forget personal safety. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary when dealing with a pesticide spill. Wearing chemical-resistant gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, shoes plus socks, and a chemical-resistant apron or coveralls (if concentrated pesticide is involved) is a must. Even if there is an injury, PPE should be put on before attending to the victim to prevent exposure to toxic chemicals.

Figure 1. Example of a spill kit.

Spill Kit

A spill kit is essential when working with pesticides because it contains all the items needed when a spill occurs. With all the items in one place, response to a pesticide spill can occur quickly. The following items should be included in a plastic container labeled “Spill Kit” (Figure 1).

Read the Label

Product labels and SDS contain emergency information and procedures that may be specific to each product. Read labels carefully and make sure they are easily accessible for quick reference in an emergency.


Nebraska Pesticide Applicator Certification Core Manual, 2015.

Pesticide Environmental Stewardship, Pesticide Spills, http://pesticidestewardship.org.

Safe Transport, Storage, and Disposal of Pesticides, EC2507, http://extensionpubs.unl.edu/publication/9000016363802/safe-transport-storage-and-disposal-of-pesticides/

When and How to Report a Pesticide Spill

Evaluating which spill situations require reporting is the first step in proper response. The following statement helps assess when to report a spill: “Report a spill if there is any potential harm to human health or the environment . . . a spill is not reportable when it does not result in pesticide lost to the environment . . . such as when it occurs on a concrete floor or in an enclosed area.”

Follow these steps when a spill occurs:

  1. 1. Call First Responders/EMT for human injuries, and medical or fire emergencies (911), OR The Poison Center for aid in human poisoning cases, 800–222–1222.
  2. 2. Control the spill.
  3. 3. Contain the spill.
  4. 4. Call CHEMTREC (Pesticide Accident Hotline) or the local fire department for help involving spills, leaks, fires; be prepared to report the actual amount of concentrated chemical/fertilizer spilled, 800–424–9300.
  5. 5. Call the Nebraska State Patrol to report chemical spills or releases and motor vehicle accidents on state/public roadways, 800–525–5555; OR the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to report all other spills, 402–471–2186, and receive guidance.
  6. 6. Clean up the spill according to recommendations from appropriate agencies, and contact them when a spill occurs. Refer to the following numbers in nonemergency situations.

Nonemergency Telephone Numbers

This publication has been peer reviewed.

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