Battery Acid Spill Cleanup?

Even though we use SLA (Sealed Lead Acid) batteries in frc. You might get unlucky one day and end up with a battery spilling. It’s always a good idea to be prepared.

What is your team’s procedure for a battery spill?

This is what I have,

Notify, First clear the area, notify a safety caption and mentors.
Protect your hands and face, Before touching the battery spill make sure you have safety goggles, and a pair of gloves made out of rubber, nitrile or latex.
Neutralize, After you have put on PPE, you cover all of the spilled area with a generous amount of baking soda. Put baking soda on until it stops fizzing and bubbling.
Contain, Once the area is neutralized, carefully lift the battery into two gallon size ziploc bags and then into a thick plastic bin.
Neutralize, Neutralize the area again.
Clean, Now you will have to clean all of the neutralized acid from the area. To do this use a shop towel to sweep it all into one pile. Then safely pick it up with the towel and put it into a separate bag along with any other contaminated items including your gloves. Finally seal the bag shut. You can also use a plastic shovel and a brush to pick it up.

Let me know if I am missing anything, or if you have any suggestions or comments. What else do you add in your battery spill instructions? What’s in your spill kits?

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That’s very well thought out. Ive seen similar before but not to as much detail.

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Seems solid and what’s generally recommended.
What I prefer to do with SLAs and the standard lead-acid batteries is have a large bucket of the neutralizing material ready to go, as you can pour that onto the spill, then put the entire battery straight into the bucket with any remaining material. When batteries spill there’s typically still pockets of acid that’ll get out as the battery is moved.
Ziploc bags are sketchy with an FRC battery (some of them like to leak), and a car battery really should be in a rigid container.

A 5-gallon bucket also counts as a seat so it’s not just eating into you limited pit space.

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Maybe it’s just me but I always thought all the battery safety warnings were over-exaggerated. In my 11 years in FRC I’ve seen maybe two batteries actually spill, neither of them were at competition. While you wouldn’t want to get 5M H2SO4 in your eyes or on large portions of your skin, it’s isn’t a fast moving danger. It doesn’t really make a difference if the spill is neutralized within 10 seconds or a few minutes after being discovered.

Having such strict written procedure for something so unlikely and relatively low-urgency seems unnecessary to me. One team with some baking soda and a good trash bag should really be all that’s required. Even if it takes a few minutes to find the materials, the spill doesn’t spread like fire and won’t bleed out like someone with a laceration. I’m much more concerned at competition with the large number of people in an enclosed space with increased fire hazard or teams that run the robots in the pits with untrained people standing feet away than even teams standing on these batteries to get to something off a high shelf.

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The thing I usually tell people is that if a battery gets dropped, you need to tell someone, even if it doesn’t look bad. I’ve been present for a battery getting dropped and cracking open where the crack was subtle enough that you could miss it if you weren’t looking for it. Sure enough, we poured baking soda on it and it started bubbling. It’s a rare occurrence, but not impossible.

That said, I agree it’s not terribly urgent in the grand scheme of things. A 5 gallon bucket, some thick gloves, and the baking soda worked for us, and we just disposed of the whole thing and got a new bucket.

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I can tell you a story about leaking batteries at two competitions in two weeks but I don’t want to boar you with something so unlikely and low-urgency. I will tell you I make sure we have a 5 gallon bucket with rubber gloves and 5 lbs of baking soda at our shop and at every competition because of these unlike situations.

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I mean, okay, you went to two competitions where a battery leaked. It’s still not really as big a deal as the safety-theater people would have you believe. I’ve gotten drops of battery acid on my fingers on plenty of occasions. I wouldn’t recommend doing it on purpose, on general principle, but it’s not like it burned holes in my skin.

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Our battery spill kit is in a large bin with a lid - big enough to hold a battery - for exactly this reason :slight_smile: Instead of a 5-gallon bucket, we use a flatter container that fits better on the battery cart.

The different, especially in crowded pits at competition, is the risk of someone tracking through the spill. Cleaning it up quicker is definitely better. That’s why our spill kit is on the robot cart - then it’s always near the robot!

being prepared for an accident when the population involved are mostly minors is “safety theater?” What defines theater?: safety glasses, ear protection, or things you just don’t think are important? or maybe you just think that these plans are just to make folks look/feel good about what they are doing?

in one of spills, it was only noticed when several of the pit crew had weird colored spots on their team shirts. When they tried to rinse the stain off and the shirt disintegrated, they knew it was acid. 8 kids were exposed in some way. It took some sleuthing and liberal application of baking soda to find the source of the problem. What I was most impressed with was how the kids handled the issue. They knew the procedure and dealt with it in a calm and efficient manner.

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3946 had two spills at one event (off season) event due to a faulty brand-new charger.

6 or 7 years ago, another mentor and I evaluated what you should actually do in case of a battery spill. She was an HR manager who was deeply involved in safety protocols in her day job. We read up on the SDS as well as training materials from industrial settings on dealing with battery spills and similar chemicals.

We debated trying to organize a training for our team on how to safely clean up spills, but ultimately we decided we didn’t trust our students to be able to follow the training well enough to do it safely. The two of us (adults) felt very nervous about attempting a clean-up ourselves, after everything we read, and decided that it would be a job for the district hazmat team instead. Our official team policy became “block off the area and notify the school district/pit admin”. And keep someone posted just outside the blocked-off area to tell people not to go in, if we’re not closing and locking a door. It was just too easy to imagine our kids jumping over/around spilled acid to get to the baking soda, or “borrowing” the neoprene gloves from the spill kit for something else and then replacing them with non-acid-proof-gloves, etc. If you’re literally already holding baking soda in your hands, I guess it doesn’t hurt to toss some on the spill on your way out the door, but why complicate the protocol with weird little extras?

Which is all to say, KISS - the appropriate reaction to a dangerous chemical spill is to GTFO and contact a professional clean-up crew, not to try and mop it up your-untrained-self with a homebrew spill kit.

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I don’t see a need to go to extremes here in either direction. Yes, it’s an acid, yes, it has lead in it. Both of these are safety hazards. However, I’m not sure calling a hazmat team is necessary for a leak or small spill, since we’re only typically talking about a few mL, not gallons. The original post (and others talking about putting the battery into a bucket instead of a zip lock bag) seems pretty consistent with the hazards discussed in the MSDS for a ruptured battery.

Product does not present an acute toxicity hazard. In case of rupture: Handle in accordance with good industrial hygiene and safety practice. Avoid contact with skin, eyes or clothing. In case of insufficient ventilation, wear suitable respiratory equipment. Use only with adequate ventilation and in closed systems. Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product. Take off contaminated clothing and wash before reuse.

Under Personal Protection (section 8):

Eye/Face Protection: None required for consumer use. If splashes are likely to occur: Face
protection shield.
Skin and Body Protection: Wear protective gloves and protective clothing. Long sleeved clothing. Chemical resistant apron. Impervious gloves.
Respiratory Protection: No protective equipment is needed under normal use conditions. If exposure limits are exceeded or irritation is experienced, ventilation and evacuation may be required.
Hygiene Measures: Handle in accordance with good industrial hygiene and safety practice. Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product. Take off contaminated clothing and wash before reuse. Avoid contact with skin, eyes or clothing. Wear suitable gloves and eye/face protection. Contaminated work clothing should not be allowed out of the workplace. Regular cleaning of equipment, work area and clothing is recommended. Wash hands before breaks and immediately after handling the product. For environmental protection, remove and wash all contaminated protective equipment before re-use

You can buy Gel/AGM spill kits that are pretty much exactly what’s being described here (except seem to use gel-type acid neutralizers instead of baking soda) if you want traceability to a product that is used in industry. E.g. Gel/AGM Spill Kit (Large) - Rainbow Technology

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I’ve never understood the idea that we should be training high school aged kids to clean up caustic chemical spills using supplies we happen to have lying around. I feel like “leave and call Hazmat” is a much more appropriate response for chemicals like this.

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This post highlights how much of a threat battery acid isn’t. We talk a lot about baking soda, and while it does do a great job as a neutralizer, it’s more useful as an indicator. Water would do enough to neutralize the acid on skin/shirts that it isn’t even in my mind to go hunting for baking soda.

It becomes “safety theater” when the “best practices” require specific materials (baking soda) and are only marginally better than washing your hands in the sink for neutralizing the immediate threat.

I don’t want students touching any acid that has spilled in an effort to clean it up. I also don’t want them floundering to find baking soda when they can use a water bottle to rinse themselves off and then get to a bathroom for an infinite supply of water.

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I think we should be teaching high school kids to analyse the situation and formulate the proper response. A FRC battery is only going to spill a couple of tablespoons of acid at the most short of crushing the battery. If you have a spill kit, it is not just laying around. and somebody has thought about the contents. Calling a hazmat team for something this minor is a waste of resources.

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which is why you a have written policy, communicate that policy and put it into practice. It’s not theater. it’s planning and education. But you do what you think is best and I’ll make sure I do what I think is best. good luck to you.

So one thing I’d add is a note that you will want to contact someone for proper disposal of the waste. If you are your home school/lab it’s likely going to be someone in Facilities but if you are at an event, Pit Admin can assist in locating the correct person. You don’t want to just chuck this waste into the nearest trash can.

Also–doesn’t hurt to do a training with your team of how to use this kit in the event of an actual spill.

Lastly if you want to be extra, you can get test strips at a pool supply company that will actually tell you the ph of the spilled material and confirm if it’s neutralized.

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Back when the Safety Award was still a thing—which I am still annoyed about–we were told it was expected. And when the UL Judge found out our baking soda had expired, that was no good. Which is funny because I am pretty sure expired baking soda will still get the job done.

I find it interesting that FIRST went from having a Safety Award where hypercritical stuff like this was expected to doing away with the Safety Award completely and having no requirement to demonstrate that your team works/operates in a safe manner.

Our team uses a safety talk system to educate our members, this is the talk we give on batteries:

Here is a link to our SDS (Safety Data Sheet) we have in our safety stand for in depth battery information:

For any other safety information, see our website: