CSB recommends stricter controls for educational demos

The U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board released a report last week with “Key Lessons for Preventing Incidents from Flammable Chemicals in Educational Demonstrations.” When C&EN posted my story about the report on Friday, we said that 20 children and two adults had been injured in fires from educational demos since the start of September.

As we posted the story, there was another incident, at a high school in Chicago: “The students were mixing chemicals in the chemistry lab to create a green flame when something went wrong and there was an explosion, police said.” That incident brings the injury count to 22 children and two adults.

CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso would like educators to reconsider whether it is necessary to do demonstrations involving hazardous materials, he said at a press conference on Oct. 30. Here are a couple of papers that address that question (h/t Ralph Stuart, Keene State College chemical hygiene officer and ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety secretary):

If demonstrations really are necessary, then CSB recommends:

  • Implement strict safety controls—written procedures, training, and personal protective equipment—when lab demonstrators are handling hazardous materials.
  • Conduct a thorough hazard review before performing any activity with flammable chemicals.
  • Avoid using bulk containers of flammable liquids in education demonstrations—separately dispense only the amount needed.
  • Provide a safety barrier between any activity involving flammable chemicals and the audience.

Although that doesn’t go far enough for Calais Weber, who was injured in a chemistry demo fire in 2006. “It is my belief that until there exists a standard mandatory protocol for training all science teachers, there is no reason for methanol to be used in classrooms. My education and love for chemistry was not fostered by seeing a demonstration in person, and it would not have been hindered by simply watching a video of it being performed in a controlled setting by trained chemists,” she said at the CSB press conference.

The American Association of Chemistry Teachers has a webinar TODAY on teaching lab safety in the chemistry classroom. AACT members can also take Division of Chemical Health & Safety workshops at ACS national and regional meetings for the discounted price of $99.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. “Avoid using bulk containers of flammable liquids in education demonstrations—separately dispense only the amount needed”

    Accidents usually occur when some ‘perfect’ storm of relatively innocuous events happen to come together in an unforeseen, unfortunate sequence. As I said in an earlier comment on a previous post, if 4.0 L containers of methanol were not sold to schools, this would remove one variable from the accident equation.