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Formalin spillages

Formalin should be handled with care and sent in appropriately sized containers with secure lids to minimise the risk of a spillage. Specimen pots should be secured in a sealable plastic specimen bag.

Each sender who handles Formalin should have their own policy or procedure and equipment for handling Formalin and dealing with a spill. Spillages should be dealt with as soon as it safe to do so. Salvage of any specimen should be of the highest importance as it is likely to not be repeatable. Specimens must not be discarded.

The sender must inform the laboratory of any spillage where the specimen may have been lost, partially lost or its integrity compromised. This should be reported as an incident and the sending clinician should be informed as soon as possible.

Couriers and porters should not attempt to handle a Formalin spillage in transit without having received proper training. In the event of a spillage, ensure the safety of others in the vicinity and contact the laboratory immediately on 0161 701 2240 Please give full details of your location and a fully trained member of staff will attend the spillage.

Our Formalin supplier, Genta, has issued the following guidance on spillages.

Spillage volumes:

  • Minor spillages (up to 200ml) - usually can be dealt with by 1 or 2 staff using simple procedures
  • Large spillages (200ml - 5 litres) - require the use of a Formaldehyde spillage kit
  • Major Spillages (over 5 litres) - should be dealt with by Fire Service

Dealing with minor spills

In a hospital environment formalin is mostly handled in very small containers with less than 100ml of 10% formalin solution. A spill of this size is unlikely to contaminate the air to dangerous levels if dealt with promptly. The spill can be wiped up with absorbent material by staff members wearing suitable impervious gloves such as nitrile gloves. The contaminated material should be sealed in plastic bags for disposal and removed from the room as soon as possible. It is important not to simply dispose of the contaminated material in an open bin as the formaldehyde will continue to contaminate the air.

Dealing with large spills

Some hospitals use formalin solutions in larger quantities, for example large specimen containers/buckets for whole organ fixing. A spill in this case can be up to ten litres and can cause more serious air contamination. Such a spill should only be tackled by trained personnel with appropriate personal protective equipment. This should include protective gloves, over-suit, boots and respiratory protective equipment (R.P.E.) with forced air feed or formaldehyde selective filters. The spill should be contained by absorbent booms and prevented from entering drains. The spill should then be absorbed into an appropriate absorbent medium, sealed in an airtight container and kept as special waste for professional disposal.

  • Evacuate all staff from immediate area and nearby areas of spillage
  • Wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment and full face mask, use a Formaldehyde spill kit to contain the spillage
  • Ensure all materials used to tackle the spillage are appropriately contained and disposed of
  • Evacuate the area
  • Break nearest fire alarm point
  • Phone emergency number for your department (e.g. 2222)
  • Inform of nature and site of spillage

Dealing with major spills

  • Evacuate the area
  • Break nearest fire alarm point
  • Phone emergency number for your department (e.g. 2222)
  • Inform of nature and site of spillage

(Last reviewed 19th July 2017)