Date: Mon, 25 Jan 2010 09:31:52 -0500
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From: Kim Auletta <kauletta**At_Symbol_Here**NOTES.CC.SUNYSB.EDU>
Subject: Possible cause for this HS chem accident
I think I have a possible cause for this HS chemistry class accident. I 
asked one of our researchers here who was a former food science chemist. 
She said that it if the teacher used the SOUR flavor, they set up an 
incompatible reaction. 

Tartaric acid is used in the food industry to make the "sour" taste for 
gums and candy. The JT Baker MSDS for potassium chlorate ( specifically lists 
tartaric acid as an incompatible material:

Iodides, tartaric acid, aluminum, sulfuric acid, hypophosphite, powdered 
metals, organic matter and many other oxidizable substances. 

It is also possible that all of the candy/gum wrapper was not removed and 
the caused a more vigorous reaction than anticipated.

This experiment, which appears to be common in HS chemistry classes, 
should have the following safety instructions included for all who 
demonstrate this reaction:

1. Read the MSDS for all chemicals before you use them. Make sure to read 
more than 1 manufacturer's MSDS - not all listed the specific chemical 
2. Do not use the SOUR flavor for the candy.
3. Check all glassware for any nicks, scratches, etc. Do not use if 
4. Use a plexiglass or lexan shield between the students and the 

These shields can be purchased from Fisher (cat.# 1429340), VWR, Flinn 
(cat. #SE225) or other companies. They are expensive, but can be made 
relatively cheaply - buy a large sheet of lexan or plexiglass 5 to 20 mm 
thick and ask the Tech Teacher to cut it and mount it on a metal base. 

Remember that the OSHA Lab Standard requires that there are written 
protocols for all experiments. These protocols must include the safety 

Kim Auletta
Lab Safety Specialist
Stony Brook University
EH&S Web site:

New York

Teacher recovering; cause of blast uncertain
Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010


BOICEVILLE — The explosion on Tuesday that injured an Onteora High School 
chemistry teacher and seven of his students came as a surprise to 
everyone, but probably no one more than the longtime teacher himself.

Donald Bucher was demonstrating an experiment with the chemical potassium 
chlorate when the explosion — which was strong enough to damage a window 
in the classroom — occurred. Onteora school district Superintendent Leslie 
Ford said on Wednesday that Bucher had conducted the same experiment 
dozens of times before, without incident, and that the cause of the 
explosion remained a mystery.

Ford said Bucher was resting at home on Wednesday, recovering from his 
injury, and that an investigation of the incident will begin shortly.

"We still don’t know what happened," the superintendent said. "But we will 
debrief Mr. Bucher when he is well enough to return."

Ford said a small piece of glass punctured Bucher’s arm and cut an artery. 
"He was bleeding quite a lot," she said.

A reporter’s calls to Bucher’s home were not answered on Wednesday.

The seven students who were injured, all 11th-graders, were treated at 
Kingston and Benedictine hospitals, primarily for minor cuts, and 

Ford said the explosion occurred when Bucher dropped a stick of gum into a 
test tube containing potassium chlorate, a chemical used in matches, 
explosives, gunpowder and fireworks.

Ford said school district officials reviewed the chemistry class’ lesson 
plan and concluded the experiment had been performed safely by Bucher in 
the past. She also said it is a standard high school chemistry experiment 
and that Bucher executed each of its steps properly on Wednesday.

"The goal of the experiment was to determine the amount of oxygen in the 
potassium chlorate," Ford said.

The superintendent said possible causes of the accident were a faulty test 
tube or the chemical itself being compromised.

All the remaining potassium chlorate in the classroom was removed, bagged 
locked in a secure location elsewhere in the building by Michael O’Rourke 
of the Risk Management Department at Ulster BOCES, Ford said.

O’Rourke said on Wednesday that the chemical will be disposed of properly 
and other chemicals in the school will be checked for problems.

According to a Web site co-maintained by the National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration, potassium chlorate is a white crystalline 
solid. It is used in matches, explosives, gunpowder and fireworks; as a 
disinfectant; and as an oxidizing agent. It forms a flammable mixture with 
combustible materials, and the mixture can be explosive if combustible 
material is finely divided.

Potassium chlorate can be ignited by friction, and contact with strong 
sulfuric acid may cause fires or explosions, according to the Web site. 
Also, it may spontaneously decompose and ignite when mixed with ammonium 
salts and may explode under prolonged exposure to heat or fire.

Ulster County Emergency Management Director Art Snyder appeared before the 
Onterora Board of Education during the body’s regularly scheduled meeting 
Tuesday evening. He outlined the procedures for hazardous materials 
disposal, though Ford noted the procedures were not required in Tuesday’s 

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