Re Lew Malchick's post about chemical safety in schools and finding picric
acid in a school in 1985:
When working in NYC schools back in the 1970's, I recall discovering a
number of bottles of picric acid in the chemical storage room at Francis
Lewis High School in Queens, NY (it was in either 1976 or 1977). I was
aware of the hazards associated with picric acid, and I quickly decided to
take action. I don't recall any mention of it on the evening news; but
when I called in my discovery to the local firehouse, I was advised to
evacuate the school immediately, and that they were sending fire trucks
and the bomb squad to deal with this. In this incident, there were no
injuries and no property damage. But it certainly doesn't surprise me that
about eight years later, the incident described by Lew Malchick occurred,
also in a NYC school. Obviously, there was no effective mechanism in place
in the 1970's to spread this information around, in order to prevent
recurrence of the same problem (along with possible explosion, fire, and
potential serious injury).
Today, however, information spreads almost instantaneously, about all
kinds of really important things, such as hacked cloud storage accounts
that reveal nude photos of celebrities.
When the well-known and fairly ubiquitous "Rainbow" experiment went awry
in another NYC school last January, resulting in serious injury to several
students, after so many similar incidents had been reported involving use
of methanol and an open flame without proper safeguards, I am certain it
occurred to many of us that there is no longer any excuse for professional
educators to put students at risk when the associated hazards have already
been well publicized (and when much safer procedures are available to
accomplish the same educational objectives). The CSB had, in fact, just
released an online video showing in great detail a thorough analysis of an
almost identical classroom accident that had taken place several years
I applaud the UFT (of which I am a member) and Lew Malchick's committee
for its efforts to help bring increased safety to the science classrooms
and laboratories of the NYC schools. I hope all of us in this forum
continue to spread the word and try to impart some of our individual and
collective wisdom to our local school districts, and possibly prevent
future accidents that can seriously injure our children.
Department of Chemistry
720 Northern Boulevard
Brookville, NY 11548-1300
On 9/5/14 3:16 PM, "Kennedy, Sheila" >Bless you! Previous post | Top of Page | Next post
>Sheila Kennedy, C.H.O.
>Safety Coordinator | Teaching Laboratories
>UCSD Chemistry & Biochemistry |MC 0303
>s1kennedy**At_Symbol_Here**ucsd.edu | http://www-chem.ucsd.edu
>Office: (858) 534-0221 | Fax: (858) 534-7687
>From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] On Behalf
>Of L M
>Sent: Friday, September 05, 2014 11:56 AM
>Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] CCS Statement on the Tornado Incident
>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
>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 HSTTG, member.
>SCONYC, board member
>Retired chemistry teacher, Brooklyn Technical High School
>----- 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
>> 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
>> children. The experiment described as creating a "smoke tornado". At
>> point we only have reports from the news media to try and understand
>> might have happened.
>> Here is our understanding at this point:
>> - The experiment involved the use of a cotton ball, methanol, and
>> - The experiment involved pouring methanol on a cotton ball, then
>> boric acid, and
>> finally igniting the mixture.
>> - However the demonstrator apparently forgot to add the methanol to
>> cotton ball and
>> decided to pour the methanol from an open bottle onto the cotton ball
>> was partially
>> ignited on an open bench top.
>> - At that point the flame ignited the methanol vapors causing the
>> 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
>> experiments and a call to cease "Rainbow Demonstrations" using methanol
>> 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
>> 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
>> of the scientific community to look more carefully at all
>> involving the use of methanol on open bench tops. The educational value
>> 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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