Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

On Friday, Oct. 30, five students and a teacher were burned in an incident involving the rainbow flame test demonstration at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Va. From a student's description of the incident given to Fox 5 DC:

[The teacher] was demonstrating the experiment ... with the different elements causing the fire to change color, and as the fire was dying down she added more alcohol

Details are still sketchy, but as we've seen many times before, most likely what happened was that the methanol supply or its vapor caught fire, flashed back into the stock container, and blew out toward the students.

Two of the Woodson students were airlifted to area hospitals; one was reported to be in critical condition on Friday. On Sunday, both were in fair condition, according to a MedStar Washington Hospital Center spokesperson. One of the students, Sonya Garvis, has serious burns to her arm and will need surgery in the coming week, NBC Washington reported. The other three students were taken to a hospital, treated, and released on Friday. The teacher was treated at the school.

As long-time blog readers know, the American Chemical Society and U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board have both warned against using flammable solvents, such as methanol, with this demonstration. A safer alternative is to soak wooden sticks in salt solutions and then burn the sticks in a flame. The National Fire Protection Association last year updated its standard for laboratories using chemicals to include requirements for demonstrations.

Local media coverage of the Woodson fire:


CSB's video PSA, featuring Calais Weber, who suffered burns over 50% of her body in 2006 from a fire that ignited when her teacher poured methanol onto a flame test flame.