AND the Worst Happens Again

It has happened again. We just published a “Lab Accidents” blog with a link to the US Chemical Safety Board’s video entitled “After the Rainbow” published December 10, 2013. Less than a month later, a young boy has experienced the same nightmare scenario as the one described in the video.

A young, safety conscious, teacher used the same Rainbow Demo that many teachers have used around the country to allow students to visualize the different flame colors shown when we burn metal salts. It happened to be the same demonstration as the one in the video, but this isn’t about banning any one demonstration. We have to advocate for safety training, responsibility and accountability. Teachers search the web for ideas and exciting ways to engage their students. The Rainbow Demo can be found under many different titles and the procedure can vary slightly.  I have seen it done at professional development venues as an example of a good way to excite students (not always using methanol, but a flammable substitute). We can find better ways of exciting our students than risking an accident like this. Teachers, teacher preparation institutions and schools need to face this reality. I grieve for this boy, his parents, his classmates and his young teacher. Please share this with your network of science teachers.

Read the article, “School Experiment That Burned Boy Was Focus of Federal Warning” by Nina Bernstein, published January 3, 2014 in The New York Times.

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Comments 2

Irmi Schewe-Miller | Tue, 01/07/2014 - 09:21

In my opinion the most important safety warning is:

Never add a liquid fuel to a burning/glowing/hot item; it will turn into a torch!.

This was obviously done in the experiment that led to the 2006 accident, and might have been the cause for the recent accident as well.

The same warning is given for the use of lighter fluids with charcoal grills, and I was hoping that it should be common sense by now.

I am surprised that this simple statement has not been given in any of the communications about these tragic accidents that I have seen.



Deanna Cullen's picture
Deanna Cullen | Wed, 01/08/2014 - 16:45

Thanks for the comment! You make a good point. I used the video and the more recent article in my classes today and spoke to my students about safety. I explained their responsibility and my own. I explained how the flame will travel up the stream of the fuel and how/why the explosion occurs. It ended up being a good teaching tool for me. I once saw someone do the same thing with a small tank of gas to enliven a bonfire. I was surprised to see a well educated person make that mistake. Unfortunately, we can't assume our incoming teachers know better. These type of stories remind me that just because I haven't had a bad accident in my classroom, doesn't mean that I can relax when it comes to safety.