U.S. Chemical Safety Board Urges Schools to Follow Safety Guidance for Flammable Chemicals After Fire at Dinwiddie High School in Virginia
Washington, D.C. October 22, 2022 - The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is urging schools to review and follow guidance issued by the CSB for lab and classroom demonstrations using flammable liquids.
The CSB is issuing this statement in the aftermath of a fire that occurred on October 12 in a classroom at Dinwiddie High School in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, during a demonstration using methanol, a highly flammable liquid. Several people were injured by the fire. Three students and a teacher were taken to hospitals for treatment, while a fourth student was treated for injuries at the scene. One of the students remains in the hospital.
While the CSB is not investigating this incident, it is similar to other serious classroom fires that have been investigated by the agency where students and teachers were injured. Those fires occurred during lab or classroom demonstrations of flames produced by burning a flammable liquid, usually methanol. In the previous cases, methanol from bulk containers was poured directly onto flames. There was a flash back to the methanol bulk containers, and the resulting fires injured students and others in the area.
In response to three serious accidents over an eight-week period in 2014 that injured children and adults, the CSB issued a safety bulletin titled, "Key Lessons for Preventing Incidents from Flammable Chemicals in Educational Demonstrations." The safety bulletin can be found on the CSB’s website
The CSB’s safety bulletin provides four key lessons learned from the three 2014 accidents:
• Do not use bulk containers of flammable chemicals in educational demonstrations when small quantities are sufficient.
• Implement strict safety controls when demonstrations necessitate handling hazardous chemicals – including written procedures, effective training, and the required use of appropriate personal protective equipment for all participants.
• Conduct a comprehensive hazard review prior to performing any educational demonstration.
• Provide a safety barrier between the demonstration and audience.
CSB Interim Executive Authority Steve Owens said: “Classroom demonstrations involving flammable chemicals can be important teaching tools, but they must be done safely. We urge school administrators and teachers to review and follow the CSB’s safety lessons for these kinds of demonstrations so that no one is harmed by these preventable accidents.”
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating incidents and hazards that result, or may result, in the catastrophic release of extremely hazardous substances. The agency's Board Members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents and hazards, including physical causes, such as equipment failure, as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.
For further information contact Hillary Cohen, Communications Manager, at [email protected]
or (202) 446-8094. Further information about the agency’s public meetings may be found on the CSB website at: www.csb.gov.