From: "Secretary, ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety" <secretary**At_Symbol_Here**DCHAS.ORG>
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Chemistry experiment goes awry, injures students
Date: Wed, 27 May 2015 09:48:15 -0400
Reply-To: DCHAS-L <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU>
Chemistry experiment goes awry, injures students
Amanda Curcio, Tallahassee Democrat 3:53 p.m. EDT May 23, 2015
A chemistry experiment gone wrong injured three Lincoln High School students Friday morning.
Leon County Emergency Medical Services responded to the call, along with the Tallahassee Fire Department and the Sheriff's Office. Two students were admitted to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital with burns suffered during the incident, and another student was released to parental care. Both hospitalized students are in stable condition, confirmed Chris Petley, spokesman for Leon County Schools.
A flame test being demonstrated by an experienced teacher during an AP chemistry class resulted in the accident.
"The teacher is devastated," Principal Allen Burch said. "But she handled everything correctly."
Burch said that students were wearing protective gear and that the teacher had successfully carried out flame tests in the past. His first concern is the students' recovery.
"As far as next steps - we'll sit down and look at how the flame test was conducted," he added. "We'll see how or if we missed anything."
A flame test is designed to analyze mineral salts. Flames produced from burning a substance in question emit certain colors, allowing observers to determine the presence of specific elements. Several elements in a type of a common flame test called the rainbow experiment release vivid colors and can be fascinating to watch, especially for students.
However, a string of disastrous accidents in high school chemistry labs in the U.S. indicates that the experiment - despite education or entertainment value - may not be worth conducting at all, according to national media reports.
The experiment is performed underneath a fume hood on a lab bench. A flammable solvent - in Friday's accident it was alcohol - is used to ignite the flame. But it also creates the conditions for a flash fire.
Flame tests are high-risk and are "totally uncalled for," said Dr. Kenneth Roy, chief science safety compliance officer at the National Science Teachers Association.
Roy, who has recently noticed a marked increase in reporting of flame test accidents in high schools, too often serves as an expert witness in cases involving victims of flame test accidents. He reported there were at least five flame test accidents this year that resulted in severe burns to students.
"Some kids for the rest of their lives will wear these scars," he said. "Parents think they're sending their kids to a safe place, and in these cases they weren't."
Roy's major point of contention is that flame test accidents are almost entirely preventable. Teachers must be aware of all safety aspects and have proper training.
"What were these school's standard operating procedures when handling hazardous materials? Were science teachers certified? Are they using safety equipment? Are they incorporating best practices?" he added.
In a follow-up interview, Petley said that the district has strong oversight on safety in science classrooms, and the accident at Lincoln was not a case of negligence.
There is not a uniform policy on how to specifically manage chemistry laboratories, but all schools are highly-regulated, he said. Schools must meet criteria outlined by federal guidelines under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, including safety training. Every August, all secondary science teachers in Leon County attend a safety course led by Fisher Scientific.
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