Spill & Emergency Response

Radiation Safety Office: 505-925-0743

UNM Police: 505-277-2241 (cell phone) or 911 (campus phone)

Major vs. Minor Spills

Spills of radioactive material can be minor or major. Minor spills are generally very low level, easily containable, and simple to clean up because the affected surface is protected with absorbent or by a spill tray, for example.

A major spill has more significance and must be reported to the Radiation Safety Office. A major spill has one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Involves a large (mCi) quantity of radioactivity.
  • Causes a radiation level that exceeds 2.0 mR/hr at 30 cm.
  • Involves radionuclides with high radiotoxicity (see Table 2).
  • Is spread over a large area or irregularly shaped area.
  • Difficult to contain.
  • Involves skin contamination, an injury, and/or radiation exposure to any individual.
  • Occurs in an unrestricted area.
  • Threatens to be released into air, water, or sanitary sewer.

Spill Response

  1. STOP what you are doing and attend to the spill. Wear full personal protective
    clothing, including gloves and shoe covers.
  2. Medical care of the injured shall take top priority over the radiation issues. In addition, the PRIMARY hazard such as a fire, flood etc. shall also take precedence. Assist the injured, extinguish the fire or pull the fire alarm, control the source of flooding etc., and then attend to the spill. Placing absorbent material on the spill to prevent spread is a recommended concurrent initial action.
  3. If the spill could involve airborne RAM, causes high radiation levels (10’s-100’s of mR/hr), or otherwise involves circumstances too complex to manage, evacuate the area, close and lock the door, and contact the RSO. Remain in the area until the RSO arrives on the scene. If additional security is required contact the UNM Police.
  4. Take steps to minimize the spread of contamination.
  5. Contact the RSO if the spill is major or if assistance is needed.
  6. Warn others to stay away from the affected area. If individuals may be contaminated, detain them until they can be surveyed from head to toe.
  • Persons with skin contamination shall immediately wash the affected areas with warm water flushes and gentle scrubbing with a mild soap, taking care not to abrade the skin. The RSO must be contacted.
  • Documentation must include the area of skin affected, initial cpm or mR/hr measured at 1 cm away, the date and time, and radiation readings and times following all subsequent decontamination efforts.
  1. Delineate the spill boundary and use barriers or other means to secure it.
  2. Obtain your spill kit. Set up a container to collect radioactive waste. Decontaminate the area working from areas of low contamination to high (perimeter to center). Continue until radiation readings are indistinguishable from background or no further reductions are achievable. Gloves shall be changed frequently.
  3. Write an incident report, identifying all radiation levels, locations affected, the probable cause of the spill, and steps to prevent future occurrences.

The Following Situations Require Immediate Reporting to the RSO

  • Fire or smoke in any radioactive materials use area.
  • Flooding in any radioactive materials use area.
  • Damage to a radiation area from a natural disaster.
  • Unauthorized entry into a radiation area or other security breach.
  • Loss, theft, or missing radioactive materials or radiation-producing machine.
  • Malfunction of any device designed to maintain radiation source safety.
  • An in-house therapeutic radiation patient who codes, requires transfer from their assigned room due to a medical emergency, or dies.
  • A therapeutic radiation patient who is released to home with radiation precautions, but who presents in the ER due to a medical condition, or who otherwise cannot follow the radiation precautions issued at the time of discharge.
  • A radiation accident victim in the ER who is contaminated and also injured.

Contact Us

Radiation Safety
MSC 08 4560
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131

Physical Location:
RHFH (Fitz Hall) - Room B89