I have been involved with academic and chemical safety in the NY City area
since before November 13, 1985, when I found 2 pound bottles of picric acid
in an abandoned storage room that were dated 1957. The resultant school
evacuation was covered live on the local 5 PM news programs. It always
amazes me that, as others have pointed out, there seems to be no consistent
communication of the hazards associated with some commonly used procedures..
Last Spring, Jimmy Fallon had a demonstrator on the Tonight Show who burned
candy with molten potassium chlorate. I wrote to the show on behalf of the
Science Council of NY City (SCONYC) noting the casual disregard for the
potential hazards. I have received no response to date. In my letter, I
cited the January 2014 Rainbow incident. Jim Kaufman noted that in the
thousands of incidents on record at the LSI, there were no injuries where
safety shields were used.
The comment about container failure is a valid one. There is another alcohol
based demo called a "whoosh bottle" that used the large plastic bottles that
are used for water at coolers. There was a warning years ago to not use
these bottles more than a few times because failures had occurred.
On Thursday, September 18, I will be leading a forum on classroom and
laboratory safety for teachers in the NYC area. This will be a joint meeting
of the NY Section High School Teachers Topical Group (HSTTG), The United
Federation of Teachers Science Committee, The Chemistry Teachers Club of NY
and the Physics Club of NY and others. (Because of a problem with obtaining
a room, the date published in the "Indicator" was changed from 9/19 to
9/18.) Anyone in the area is welcome to attend and contribute to the
discussion. The location is at the UFT, 52 Broadway, New York, NY at 7:15
Incidents like the Rainbow can be career enders. The goal of this session
will be to help teachers strike a balance between the pressure to do
something spectacular to motivate students and to fend off those who would
over-react and ban all real "hands-on" activities. One key is choosing safer
alternatives whenever possible.
UFT Science Committee, Co-chair
Chemistry Teachers Club of NY, Safety Coordinator
SCONYC, board member
Retired chemistry teacher, Brooklyn Technical High School
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----- Original Message -----
From: "Secretary, ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety"
Sent: Friday, September 05, 2014 12:57 PM
Subject: [DCHAS-L] CCS Statement on the Tornado Incident
>> From: roberth_hill**At_Symbol_Here**mindspring.com
>> Sent: Sep 5, 2014 10:48 AM
>> Subject: CCS Statement on the Tornado Incident
> Statement from the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety regarding the ?Tornado
> Experiment? Explosion in a Science Museum in Reno, Nevada
> On Wednesday, September 3, 2014, we learned of chemical incident at a
> science museum in Reno, Nevada, that injured a number of people including
> children. The experiment described as creating a ?smoke tornado?. At this
> point we only have reports from the news media to try and understand what
> might have happened.
> Here is our understanding at this point:
> - The experiment involved the use of a cotton ball, methanol, and boric
> - The experiment involved pouring methanol on a cotton ball, then adding
> boric acid, and
> finally igniting the mixture.
> - However the demonstrator apparently forgot to add the methanol to the
> cotton ball and
> decided to pour the methanol from an open bottle onto the cotton ball that
> was partially
> ignited on an open bench top.
> - At that point the flame ignited the methanol vapors causing the ensuing
> deflagration ?
> flash fire.
> - The flash fire injured 13 people, mostly children.
> This incident is very similar to and reminiscent of recent ?Rainbow
> Demonstrations? incidents that caused CCS to release a warning about these
> experiments and a call to cease ?Rainbow Demonstrations? using methanol on
> open bench tops.
> Assuming that our understanding is correct, then, we have yet another
> experiment involving the highly flammable methanol improperly used in
> demonstrations on open bench tops.
> Any experiment using a flammable solvent on an open bench where there is a
> source of ignition presents an unnecessary risk to the demonstrator and
> CCS calls upon all of our educators to help us to reach out to all members
> of the scientific community to look more carefully at all demonstrations
> involving the use of methanol on open bench tops. The educational value of
> these particular demonstrations should be carefully weighed against the
> risk of flash fires from ignition of methanol vapors. At no time should
> methanol be poured from an open bottle on an open bench top in the
> presence of a flame or source of ignition ? the risk of a flash fire is
> very great.
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