I was distressed to learn once again of a serious high school laboratory accident, this one occurring yesterday at a New York City High School. According to media reports, a flash fire erupted during a demonstration in the high school‘s laboratory injuring two 10th grade students, one severely.
This accident is all too similar to one we highlighted recently in a video safety message that specifically focused on potential dangers in high school chemistry laboratories. The CSB’s safety message, entitled “After the Rainbow,” features accident survivor Calais Weber, who describes in her own words how at age 15 she was burned over 40 per cent of her body during a chemistry demonstration performed by her teacher at the prestigious boarding school she attended in Ohio. That accident occurred on January 23, 2006. Our chemical investigation screening process regrettably regularly reports similar accidents.
Though information at this stage is very preliminary, media reports indicate the accident that occurred yesterday in Manhattan may have resulted from the same type of demonstration that critically injured Ms. Weber. That demonstration, called the “rainbow experiment,” was meant to show how various mineral salts produce different color flames when burned. Mineral salts were mixed with highly flammable methanol in small dishes.
The CSB believes that accidents in high school laboratories occur with alarming frequency. Yesterday’s incident is yet another reminder of the need for exacting safety measures to protect students and school property. As Calais states in "After the Rainbow," her accident should never have occurred, and with better attention to good safety practices, similar accidents can be avoided. She says, “It feels with this type of injury that you’ve had so much taken away from you unnecessarily and to keep reading about other people who have had very similar experiences, it’s tragic and shouldn’t happen.”
LINK TO CSB SAFETY MESSAGE: http://www.csb.gov/videos/
CSB videos may be streamed and downloaded at www.CSB.gov from the CSB media room. They are also available on www.YouTube.com/uscsb.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen, cell 202-446-8094 or Sandy Gilmour, Public Affairs, cell 202-251-5496.