From: Patricia Redden <predden**At_Symbol_Here**SAINTPETERS.EDU>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Thirteen people hurt in chemical explosion at Nevada museum
Date: Fri, 5 Sep 2014 09:40:21 -0400
Reply-To: DCHAS-L <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU>
Message-ID: CAPy+966djEpFNahGrCJt_QeR9zXULeMXQK16xdVKdbFXVzT6RQ**At_Symbol_Here**

According to the news report at 11 pm in NYC last night, and from what I gleaned from the original video and other web postings, you are supposed to start out with the methanol either in a dish or on a cotton ball, then add the boric acid (to make the green color) and ignite. (Some directions say to ignite the methanol and then sprinkle on the boric acid.) Apparently to get the "tornado" effect with the green flame it has to be on a spinning table and in a mesh cylinder. The news report last night, and the demonstrator's comment in the original video, implied she forgot to add the methanol and tried to ignite the cotton ball with the boric acid, then poured in the methanol, causing the incident.

Pat Redden

On Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 9:14 AM, Jarral Ryter <jryter**At_Symbol_Here**> wrote:

Now this is what drives me crazy with all of the accident reports. A newspaper will give some vague description and no great detail. When I used to climb and mountaineer more I used to read a yearly accident report. This listed all the variables of the group and what went wrong and where. On the descent? Improper use of equipment? Etc. I learned a lot. Now all I see is "unknown chemical causes people to go to hospital". What was it? Why did they get exposed? Etc. Is there such a thing for chemical safety and I don't know?

This is a perfect example. On this list I have seen several explanations that don't make tornados. I assumed that they were making a simple demonstration like this

In the interview lady said they had two tornados and she poured more methanol on one and Kaboom. But we won't know exactly very easily. I also assume that it was a pretty easy demonstration as 99% are in a setting like this.


Jarral Ryter

Chemistry Instructor/Lab and Safety Manager

Western State Colorado University



From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] On Behalf Of James Saccardo
Sent: Thursday, September 04, 2014 8:06 PM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Thirteen people hurt in chemical explosion at Nevada museum

Did a little girl really get burned the way that witness described. The aunt said her niece was burned all over. I think of Sherri. I pray she is okay.

This is a classic Fisher esterfication, most colleges do it with benzoic acid and methanol. They're only conducted in a fume hood, with a stream bath or an electric mantle, a reflux condenser, but never any open flame.

Hard to believe that they carry this out with the children sitting below eye level with no protection (kids that age, I'm thinking a full glass barrier). I am so happy to see this institute carrying out such demonstrations that have a profound effect on young minds, but I wonder if they had an EHS or RMS specialist ever document the deficiency?

Perhaps there might be a better way to excite the metalloid without the flammable hazard. How does any of this relate to tornados?

James Saccardo, CHMM

Sent from 4G LTE Smartphone

----- Reply message -----
From: "Alnajjar, Mikhail S" <ms.alnajjar**At_Symbol_Here**PNNL.GOV>
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Thirteen people hurt in chemical explosion at Nevada museum
Date: Thu, Sep 4, 2014 7:16 PM

Hard to believe they Demo such experiment using that much flammable solvent.

From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] On Behalf Of Wilkinson, Larry E
Sent: Thursday, September 04, 2014 11:44 AM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Thirteen people hurt in chemical explosion at Nevada museum

I was a chemistry teacher in a former life (last year in the classroom was 25 years ago). I've never done (nor seen this done) as a demo. In a MUCH smaller ratio, it was (is?) commonly taught in Chemistry II or Chemistry AP as a part of a qualitative inorganic anion analysis scheme (for boron as borate). Anion analysis typically followed weeks of lab work (and therefore technique safety training) on the extensive cation analysis scheme.

Larry Wilkinson

Chemist, ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Co.

From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] On Behalf Of Debbie M. Decker
Sent: Thursday, September 04, 2014 12:46 PM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Thirteen people hurt in chemical explosion at Nevada museum

Does this make sense as the demo being attempted? And Sandra/Fannie are right on when it comes to this incident sounding all too familiar.


Green Borate Flame


-matches, or some source of fire

-glass container with narrow neck


-Solid boric acid --B (OH) 3(s)

-Concentrated sulfuric acid --H2SO4 (l)

-Methanol --CH3OH (l)


  1. In the glass container, combine 2-3mL of H2SO4(l) with 150mL of CH3OH(l)
  2. Add 30g of B(OH)3(s) to the mixture.
  3. Heat the mixture to a small boil.
  4. Ignite the evaporating gas. Swirl the container constantly to ensure that gas is constantly produced and the flame doesn't go away.


-The mixture of B(OH)3(s), H2SO4(l), and CH3OH(l) produces an ester, which is volatile, flammable, and burns with a green flame.

From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] On Behalf Of Courtier, Fannie (courtife)
Sent: Thursday, September 04, 2014 10:34 AM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Thirteen people hurt in chemical explosion at Nevada museum

Yes it reminds me of the Rainbow video. Where were the googles and why was it not done in a hood for safety? Poor planning and poor safety management and the poor children.

Fannie Courtier

Senior Lab Associate

University of Cincinnati Clermont

From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] on behalf of Koster, Sandra [skoster**At_Symbol_Here**UWLAX.EDU]
Sent: Thursday, September 04, 2014 1:15 PM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Thirteen people hurt in chemical explosion at Nevada museum

By looking at the second video and the commentary it seems clear that the mixture was not faulty, rather that since one demo was already burning when the methanol was added to the second one, the methanol vapors traveled along the bench to the ignition source and flashed back. Considering the size of the bottle of methanol it could have been much, much worse. I think this is the sort of thing that has happened in the "Rainbow Demonstration". Demonstrators have just got to be trained that having open flammables (or even worse, pouring flammables) plus ignition source is a recipe for disaster.

Sandra Koster, Senior Lecturer

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

On Thu, Sep 4, 2014 at 8:55 AM, Secretary, ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety <secretary**At_Symbol_Here**> wrote:

Thirteen people hurt in chemical explosion at Nevada museum

(Reuters) - Thirteen people were hurt, including several children, in a chemical explosion on Wednesday at a museum in Reno, Nevada, where presenters demonstrating a so-called smoke tornado caused the blast with a faulty mixture, officials said.

Seven children and two adults with non-life threatening injuries were transported to a local hospital, and another four people were treated and released at the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum in Reno where the explosion occurred, said Reno police spokesman Tim Broadway.

The people who were hospitalized had suffered burn injuries, said Matthew Brown, a spokesman for the city of Reno.

Presenters at the museum were trying to create a "smoke tornado" in a visual demonstration they had done before when a faulty mixture of alcohol and boric acid caused the blast, Brown said.

The museum is aimed mainly at children and offers interactive exhibits in geology, astronomy, history and other subjects.

Officials said they did not immediately have details on the ages of the children hurt in the explosion, which they said did not light anything on fire at the museum.

Video report at

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