New safety guidelines for chemical demonstrations released
Dec13

New safety guidelines for chemical demonstrations released

The ACS Division of Chemical Education recently finalized new safety guidelines for chemical demonstrations, following a number of injuries from demo fires and other mishaps in the last several years. The guidelines build on similar efforts by the U.S. National Fire Protection Association and Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board. The new guidelines seem straightforward and contain nothing surprising. Hopefully they’ll help prevent further injuries. You can download the guidelines here. For a graphical version of the similar National Fire Protection Guidelines, see...

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Poor storage of 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine leads to controlled explosions in the U.K.
Nov09

Poor storage of 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine leads to controlled explosions in the U.K.

At least 40 U.K. schools have called in bomb disposal teams to dispose of improperly stored 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine (2,4-DNPH or 2,4-DNP), Chemistry World reports. 2,4-DNPH is used in a practical exam for U.K. students to complete their “A-level” to complete high school. Students would react an aldehyde or ketone with 2,4-DNPH to produce a colored 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazone. The experiment had been discontinued but was recently reintroduced. Some schools “have retrieved questionable 2,4-DNPH ‘from the dusty back shelves of the chemical store,’ ” Chemistry World says. If the material dries out, it becomes sensitive to friction and shock. Simply removing the container lid could result in an explosion. That’s why the disposal method of choice is a controlled detonation, as also often happens with dried picric acid. A U.K. advisory service for school science and technology programs, CLEAPSS, recommends that: The solid is supplied damp or ‘wetted’ to minimise the risk of dust/air explosion. Keep solid damp at all times. Stand the bottle of damp solid inside a larger container that also contains a little tap water in the bottom (~ 1 cm depth). Label both the inner and outer containers. If solid may have become dry, do NOT attempt to open the bottle. Contact CLEAPSS. Or, if you’re not in the U.K., probably whoever handles your hazardous waste...

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Georgia student burned in “rainbow demo” alcohol fire to receive $1.5 million
May11

Georgia student burned in “rainbow demo” alcohol fire to receive $1.5 million

A woman who was burned in a 2013 fire started when a high school teacher added methanol to an already-burning rainbow flame test demonstration will receive $1.5 million as part of a legal settlement, says the Daily Report, a news organization that covers Georgia courts and law. From the story: According to the plaintiff’s lawyers and the complaint in the case, Chapel Hill [High School] was hosting an Advanced Placement open house on the evening of Oct. 3, 2013. As part of the event, [student Olivia Johnson] and an instructor, Ashley Mathieson, were conducting a chemistry experiment in the school hallway that involved identifying various chemicals by the color of the flame they emit when burned. As part of the experiment, substances were placed in a crucible or petri dish and Mathieson poured liquid methanol over them from a 4-liter jug, which Johnson would then light. The complaint said Johnson was holding a lighter to the dish when Mathieson became engaged in an “animated conversation” with another student and her mother, turning her back to Johnson, the complaint said. Mathieson abruptly turned and poured more methanol on the open flame, causing a “flash fire that engulfed [Johnson] in a ball of flames.” … A series of “after” [photos of Johnson] shows widespread scarring on her hands, arms, chest, back and neck. … [Attorney Joseph Neal Jr. said that] school systems are protected from suit by sovereign immunity, while school employees enjoy the protection of official immunity. Only if such an employee can be shown to have negligently performed or failed to perform a ministerial duty—one which is mandated by rule or law—is there exposure to liability. That threshold, said Neal, makes it virtually impossible to sue a teacher or principal. But he said a conversation with a laboratory safety expert who specializes in school fires alerted him to the National Fire Protection Association safety standards—standards that had been incorporated into Georgia’s fire safety code and adopted by Douglas County ordinance. “That means they’re law; they’re mandatory,” Neal said. In September, the lawyers, along with ChancoSchiffer partner Douglas Chanco, filed a suit in Douglas County Superior Court on Johnson’s behalf, naming Mathieson and Chapel Hill Principal Sean Kelly as defendants. The suit said the defendants had violated several “ministerial, mandatory, and non-discretionary Douglas County and state of Georgia fire codes, laws and regulations” by conducting the rainbow experiment in a school hallway not separated from the building by a fire barrier, improperly storing and handling the methanol, failing to safeguard against the exposure of hazardous materials and fumes to flame and ignoring a red-lettered sign on the chemical cabinet where...

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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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How to do classroom demos safely
Nov19

How to do classroom demos safely

“One of these days, someone is going to die” from injuries sustained in a chemistry classroom fire, Calais Weber Biery says. “I almost did.” In response to all the students injured in alcohol-fueled school fires, C&EN has released a package focused on classroom demo and experiment safely. It’s got a story, an infographic illustrating the National Fire Protection Association recommendations for demos, and a video depicting the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety’s recommended procedure for flame tests (soak sticks in aqueous salt solutions, then burn them in a bunsen burner). The package went online yesterday at http://cenm.ag/labdemo and will be in Monday’s print issue (Nov. 23). Please feel free to share the link or...

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