Lessons from methanol flash fires
Jan19

Lessons from methanol flash fires

From a letter to the editor in this week’s C&EN: Yet another methanol flash fire has occurred with injuries when a high school teacher was demonstrating the “rainbow” flame test (C&EN, Nov. 9, 2015, page 6). While “rainbow” demonstrations have been conducted safely many times, they become dangerous if a large bottle of methanol is brought back to the demonstration to add more methanol. This same mistake has been repeated many times with catastrophic results. … The big lesson learned is that undergraduates (tomorrow’s teachers, graduate students, scientists) need a solid safety laboratory education—the long-term fix. Today’s undergraduates get safety training, not a safety education. Safety education teaches the “why” behind hazards so the student can understand and learn to respect the need for safety. Understanding the “why” teaches students the basis for safety measures and rules—making them more likely to use and follow them. Safety education teaches the student to think critically about safety. More than once, I have heard, “There’s not room in the curriculum” for safety education. We need to rethink our priorities, values, and ethics. Among various topics in chemistry, safety is the only one that can result in serious injuries or death if it is not taught or valued. Safety education needs to be included in the chemistry curriculum from the very beginning, teaching principle-based safety: Recognize hazards, assess the risks of hazards, minimize the risks of hazards, and prepare for emergencies. Many of our science teachers only take a few courses in chemistry, so we need to get to them early and often to give them as much of a safety education as we can before they move on to other majors—it is clear that flammable hazards need to be understood by these students. Read the full letter here. Find safety resources for demos and student experiments at...

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Creating a culture of safety in the science classroom
Dec08

Creating a culture of safety in the science classroom

Coming up TODAY at 4 pm Pacific/7 pm Eastern: A webinar on “Creating a Culture of Safety in the Science Classroom,” sponsored by the American Association of Chemistry Teachers As teachers we are responsible for generating general safety understanding within the laboratory setting, and for creating a culture of safety in the science classroom from day one. Together we’ll examine important aspects of a safe science laboratory, and participants will learn how to create a culture of safety in their own science classroom. Register...

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“Tales of Lab Safety” webinar
Sep17

“Tales of Lab Safety” webinar

The ACS Program-in-a-Box series is featuring lab safety at its upcoming webinar on Oct. 20 at 7:00 pm Eastern: “Tales of Lab Safety: How to Avoid Rookie Accidents.” The speakers are Mary Beth Mulcahy, of the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board, and me. Hosting should be easy–you arrange for space and gather an audience, while ACS provides the content, promotional materials, activities, and raffle prizes. You can register...

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Denver student hit in chest with jet of flaming methanol
Sep17

Denver student hit in chest with jet of flaming methanol

New incident, same message: Don’t pour alcohol anywhere near a possible flame. At a press briefing yesterday, Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board investigators spoke about what they’ve learned so far regarding an incident at a Denver high school that sent four students to the hospital on Monday: The teacher lit a small pool of methanol to demonstrate its flame properties. When the flame didn’t rise as high as desired, he added more methanol from a 4 L container. The fire flashed back into the container, then emerged as a “jet fire” that traveled 15 ft to hit a student in the chest. That student was wearing a synthetic shirt and was seriously injured, others sitting nearby were also hurt. CSB investigators also spoke about the Sept. 3 incident involving a “tornado” demo at a Reno, Nev., museum that sent nine people to the hospital. CSB had previously released details on that one, which involved pouring methanol from a 4 L bottle onto what was likely a smoldering cotton ball. The only new information yesterday was that the demo normally involves three tornadoes in varying fuel/additive combinations to show different flame colors. Also, back when the museum started using the demo, demonstrators had left the 4 L bottle in another area, taking out to the demo table only the amount needed. “Out of convenience, over time, the 4 L container itself had started being used in the demonstration,” CSB inspector Mark Wingard said. “Instructors and teachers are just not aware of the flashback hazard of methanol,” CSB managing director Daniel Horowitz said. “Methanol has a flash point that’s pretty similar to gasoline. I think that if people knew that gallon containers of gasoline were being brought into classrooms right near flames, they would be horrified.” Here are stories I was able to turn up from roughly the past year either definitely were or sound like methanol fires: Sept. 9, 2013, in Frisco, Tex.: Two middle school students and a teacher were injured in a flash fire that arose from a flame test experiment involving methanol. Oct. 3, 2013, in Douglas County, Ga.: One student suffered burns on 25% of her body when, while doing a flame test experiment, “a flammable liquid dispensed from the container unexpectedly fast and ignited, involving a 12th grade female student and catching her on fire.” Nov. 12, 2013, in Avondale, Az.: Four students and a teacher were injured in a “flash explosion” that occurred during a flame test experiment. Nov. 25, 2013, in Chicago, Ill.: A high school student suffered second-degree burns on her hands and four other students were hospitalized when the teacher was doing a flame test...

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Chemical safety for teachers webinar next week
Sep11

Chemical safety for teachers webinar next week

Just a quick post to spread the word that the American Association of Chemistry Teachers is holding a webinar on Tuesday, Sept. 16, from 7-8 pm Eastern on “Chemical Safety for Teachers”: Join professor and chemical safety expert Sammye Sigmann as she discusses laboratory standards, stockroom management, and answers your questions about safety in the chemistry classroom. Register...

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Friday chemical safety round up
Nov22

Friday chemical safety round up

Chemical health and safety news from the past few weeks: Court watch On Nov. 20, UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran had a status check with the judge regarding felony charges of labor code violations that led to the death of researcher Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji. The result of that status check was another status check scheduled for Jan. 10, 2014. Harran’s preliminary hearing concluded on April 26. We’re going on two years since charges were filed on Dec. 27, 2011, and five years since the Dec. 29, 2008, fire. On Nov. 1, former UC Davis chemist David Snyder was arraigned on felony charges of reckless disposal of hazardous waste, possession of a destructive device or explosive, possession of materials with intent to make a destructive device, and possession of firearms on university property. The charges relate to an explosion in his campus apartment nearly one year ago. Snyder’s preliminary hearing concluded on Oct. 10. Snyder is scheduled for a trial-setting conference on March 17, 2014, and a jury trial to start on March 24, 2014. Tweets of the month from @Free_Radical1: First synthesis lab of the semester, and 3 students not wearing goggles. Lab uses conc. phosphoric/sulfuric acid. Meh, vision is over-rated. — Free Radical (@Free_Radical1) November 11, 2013 Idea for post-lab question: do a Google Image Search for “sulfuric acid in eyes”, screen cap the first page of hits, email to TA. #tempting — Free Radical (@Free_Radical1) November 11, 2013 I think our safety committee would have an issue with 450 undergrads synthesizing TNT: http://t.co/xYphFEXxMh — Free Radical (@Free_Radical1) November 21, 2013 Came across a J Chem Ed lab where the students used lithium aluminum hydride. Um…yeah. And by “yeah”, I mean “no”. — Free Radical (@Free_Radical1) November 21, 2013 Other items of interest The president-elect of ACS, Diane Grob Schmidt, is currently the chair of the Division of Chemical Health & Safety NIOSH released new recommendations for controlling worker exposure to nanomaterials BioRAFT will hold a webinar on Proactive EHS Management & Communications on Dec. 12 Residents near an Allenco Energy oil field in Southern California have been complaining for three years about fumes from the site. At Sen. Barbara Boxer’s request, EPA investigators visited the site in October. “I’ve been to oil and gas production facilities throughout the region, but I’ve never had an experience like that before,” [EPA regional administrator Jared] Bumenfeld said. “We suffered sore throats, coughing and severe headaches that lingered for hours.” No word on what’s happened since. Also in California, state regulators are supposed to match hazardous material origin paperwork with what arrives at disposal sites. They don’t. “These so-called lost loads...

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