Friday, January 3, 2014

Another accident with the "rainbow flame" experiment

A teacher’s chemistry experiment exploded during a demonstration at Beacon High School in Manhattan on Thursday, creating a fireball that burned two 10th graders, one severely, according to Fire Department and school officials. 
The incident happened about 9 a.m., as Anna Poole, a science teacher at the public school, gave a lesson on how electrons react to different chemicals and give off different colors, according to students and school officials. 
“There was a science experiment underway in this classroom and it went bad,” said James Long, a spokesman for the Fire Department. “There were students that were believed to be in the front rows of the classroom, there was a flash of the fire, and they were caught within that flash.” 
A boy suffered severe burns on his face and neck, and a girl was burned on her hand, officials said. Both were taken to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Carmen Fariña, the new schools chancellor, said that the boy, whom she identified by only his first name, Alonzo, was in serious condition on Thursday afternoon at the hospital, and that the other student, identified as Julia, had been sent home. 
When the experiment exploded, students dived under their desks and screamed for help, students in neighboring classrooms said. But the two students sitting near the front were engulfed in flames. Students and teachers helped put the fire out, and it was no longer burning by the time firefighters arrived.
Here's the same story from the Daily News and The Gothamist. I find it sadly ironic that her students said that she was fairly safety-focused -- evidence, to me, that even the safety-conscious amongst us can fail -- and the consequences can be life-shattering.

I still don't know what can be done to stop this specific accident, but I'd really like to try. 


  1. My wife (a high school chemistry teacher) has actually had something similar happen, although no one was injured. She also had the fireball occur when she poured methanol from the bottle directly, instead of adding more methanol by pipette. It seems the flame from the crucibles followed the vapor back into the bottle, flashed, and splashed additional methanol onto the bench. It is not clear that that is what happened in the Beacon High case, but that does seem to have been the problem with Western High case. I want to note that my wife distinctly remembers thinking, "I probably shouldn't do this in this way, but I don't want to take the time to pipette." Again, those thoughts are very reminiscent of comments made by the teacher at Western reserve. So one of the keys to preventing this type of accident is that if you think something is probably a bad idea, don't do it.

    1. Where did she get this procedure? Is it in a common textbook? A popular website? Is it taught in Education programs?

  2. The problem is you need teachers that are overly and redundantly trained--for example, I think if you wanted a HS chemistry teacher that was almost 100% certain not to injure a student with a demo that went wrong, you need an individual who has worked with very dangerous chemicals--the problem is you only get to this point if you are in a grad program doing synthesis where you work with powerful oxidizing/reducing, stong bases, pyrogenic compounds, etc. This kind of individual is probably going to have more ambition than to be a HS Chemistry teacher.

    Too a dopey biochemist like me, it might be interesting to put a small chuck of sodium metal in a beaker of water to show my students to watch it fizzle (if I did not know better).

    Again, schools get what they pay for.

    1. I think the phrase would work better as "different ambition than to be high school teacher" in place of "more ambition..."

      It's not less of work to be HS teacher, it's just not for everyone.

    2. NMH, I agree with you 100 percent. Good point about schools get what they pay for as well. Chemistry, physics, and math teacher should be paid more than other teachers. Their pay is artificially deflated by the contracts that say all subjects of teacher have to be paid the same at the same step.

      Whenever this case is made, stupid people jump up and down screaming about how the person who teaches a child to read is just as important as the one who teaches them algebra later, blah, blah. I say those people are stupid because they are unable to understand the basic premise of supply and demand that underpins capitalism. It is lucidly explained in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. The pay commanded by a particular job has little to do with its value. Other factors are much more relevant such as the difficulty or unpleasantness of the work combined with the rarity of those who can or will do it. THAT is what should be driving the pay for secondary math and hard science teachers. There are easily thousands or more people capable of teaching reading to first graders compared to each person capable (as in competent, as in won't dump methanol on a flame under the faces of kids) of teaching chemistry...or math or physics to high school students.

      The free market as in the invisible hand doesn't play favorites and has no biases unlike people so it should be determining teacher wages not teacher unions or jealous elementary school teachers or the average citizen who stinks at math and hard science and therefore spitefully insist on deflating those wages.

  3. For example: should this really be on the internet for a potential HS Chemistry teacher to try?

  4. Just came up with this, so I haven't thought it through completely, but at least in the two cases discussed here, a quick fix could be to leave the bottles of reagents in the supply room (or in the back of the class, out of direct sunlight, since the potential for a broken reagent bottle in a supply closet from rushing back and forth for more reagent is also be a problem), and only take amounts appropriate for the demonstration to the front in unambiguously-labelled, reagent-appropriate containers. You could still get flying glass from smaller explosions and gas-line explosions, but it could at least cut down on the larger ones. Certainly not an all-encompassing solution to high school chemistry safety - which needs far more consideration - but it's something.

    It's terrible that they were severely injured just from going to class, especially with it being compulsory at the high school level. Chemists at least understand and accept the occupational hazards of their work, but these students were just going to class.

  5. I would guess that there is some sort of book or website that has this stupid experiment in it. Unless this is being taught in education programs - doubtful - there is something circulating. The logical first step is to find out whoever is publishing this idiotic demonstration. Is it in some commonly used lab manual? Or some popular website?

  6. And is this experiment often performed with methanol, or does it only make the news when the teacher blows up a jug of methanol? Googling 'rainbow flame' reveals this procedure, which recommends less volatile flammable liquids such as isopropanol or 151 rum:

    I still think this is a stupid way to do it, but now I wonder.... do teachers occasionally grab methanol and cause an explosion by mistake, or is someone out there recommending methanol?

    1. I'm the same anonymous from the first comment...methanol is usually used because it solvates a range of metal salts much better than isopropanol or ethanol and gives more vibrant colors, in my experience. This demo probably appears in the widely regarded Shakhashiri books, but I personally have never tried to track down the "origin" of this basic experiment. I have seen it performed or personally performed it the same way (safely) over two hundred times, but problems can happen when you rush or are careless. Similar to Peter Edwards comment below, while I don't know how well aqueous solutions work, a small amount of solid salt on Nichrome wire in a Bunsen burner can be a safer alternative, but nothing dealing with fire is idiot-proof (I've seen students reach across lit Bunsen burners to turn up the gas flow.) I won't use this comment as a forum to rail against the sterilization of science education in the name of safety, but it saddens me to see people talk about eliminating the very demo that first got me excited about science in 6th grade (performed every year at my school for multiple classes using methanol...never an incident.)

    2. Anon2:03, I actually agree that the potential sterilization of laboratory chemistry, especially in high schools, is something to be against.

      Thank you for your thoughts, I'm sure I will be returning to this in the following days/weeks/months.

  7. If the common denominator in most of the accidents with this demonstration is inappropriate addition of methanol (or other solvents), it may be a better idea just to take the methanol out of equation. It may not be as picturesque as a row of crucibles with different colored flames, but using Bunsen burners and spray bottles containing aqueous solutions of the salts could possibly cut down on the number of accidents. Yes, you can possibly run into issues with poorly set-up or faulty Bunsen burners, but that seems much less likely than a methanol bottle exploding in the teacher's hands.

  8. I remember similar experiments in HS (20+ years ago), where the teacher used a bunsen burner and a metal loop. The loop was dipped in the appropriate solution and then placed in the flame – voila!

    From what I have been able to read, these teachers appear to be using a free body of highly-flammable liquid – with no control over what a colorless gas does while it remains colorless. When the gas reaches a mixture that can ignite, that open flame can easily provide the energy.

  9. What sort of equipment does the classroom have? Having some sort of positionable ventilation system that could be placed over the experiment would be nice (one of those adjustable-arm hood-vent thingies... you can tell I know very little about them from my lack of terminology).

    But I imagine that HS classrooms lack the ventilation systems to do most of these types of demos safely (they probably don't even have sufficient blast shields). There's not even proper systems to do a lot of demos safely in our science building classrooms at the college where I teach, so I'm reluctant to do any but the most simple and safe demos. This sucks for the students (and me) but I'm not willing for that 1% chance that something bad is going to happen, because one of these times it will.

  10. The teacher involved is always referred to as a science teacher. Does she have a Chemistry License?

    1. I googled New York teacher certification lookup and put in her name. The NY dept of ed states that she has two science certifications, biology 7-12 and chemistry 7-12, both issued September 1, 2009. This does not mean that she was a chemistry major or that she even did well in chemistry or that she even knows much chemistry.

      In most states, if you have one teaching credential in any subject at the secondary level, you can add any other subject by simply taking a subject matter test. Some of the tests are not very hard. I have taken several in Cali and passed first try without a major in the subject. History and English were very, very easy. Math was the most difficult by far that I passed and I had a minor in it.

      I looked at the chemistry exam description and I could pass it if I studied for a couple of months. My last chemistry class was in high school. But then I have a high IQ. Anna Poole doesn't seem very bright to me. But you don't have to be very bright to get a teaching credential. I think that is the main problem. Anybody with a pulse basically can become a teacher. There are thousands of chemistry teachers across the country who have little more knowledge of the subject than their students who are pouring methanol over their "fun", "cool", pretty experiments to get oohs and aahs from their students. Cheap and shallow entertainment is the name of the game in education these days not boring, abstract learning.

      Check out the Sci Ed Innovators fellowship that Ms. Poole participated in. If you read the book the founder wrote on democratic classrooms in science or look at their website or go through the pictures of what Ms. Poole and her cohorts were doing in the program, it is all about diversity training, multiculturalism, and other "progressive", libtard education agendas. There is no hint of actual science or chemistry learning going on in this program.

      College education classes have the same agenda. So if Ms. Poole was an education major, she definitely would have learned a lot more about how minorities are victims and how students should have a voice in the classroom and about how to be cool and popular and fun as a teacher than she would have about actual science.

      I hope that gives some thinking people an insight into what the real problem is and why these accidents keep happening. Like the Bible says, you can't follow two masters. American education can be about actual academics or it can be about liberal social agendas. It can't be about both. Only the communist, socialist, far lefties actually think these two agendas are not in opposition. The liberal school social agenda is anti merit based academic promotion, anti competition, anti ability placement in academics and so on. This agenda has won the day in American education. Is it any wonder that incompetents are in charge in many of our science classrooms? Does anyone think that an incompetent chemistry teacher doing dangerous experiments is not going result in classroom accidents on occasion?

    2. Getting advice from foaming conservatives about intellectual honesty is like getting advice on how to remain chaste from pornography.

    3. Getting facts into the brains of rabid liberals is like trying to teach calculus to a gerbil.

    4. There are a lot of other places on the Internet to argue about politics, folks.

    5. Except that if you want to understand what is happening to American education, you can't do that if you eliminate politics from the discussion. Have you heard of the Bloomberg pogrom of experienced teachers in New York? There was a huge push during the last decade for New York to replace experienced, traditionally certified and expensive teachers with cheap newbies who have gone through crash course programs like TFA. The fact that such a policy can be accepted has everything to do with the cultural and political beliefs of influential citizens and also the majority of citizens. This chemical accident is all about politics because who gets hired to teach these days is all about cultural standards which in the end in our country is a political issue. The decision to hire lesser qualified minorities to teach because of equity issues is certainly a political issue. The decision to train teachers on topics like equity, diversity, and racism instead of training them in the area of the subject they are teaching is a direct contributor to this accident and is certainly all about politics. You asked the question, how do we stop these kinds of accidents from happening. My position is that you can stop them from happening by stopping the hiring of unqualified teachers. Unqualified teachers are being hired because of a particular political agenda. The reason it keeps happening is that everybody wants to turn a blind eye to the politics behind this. The CSB and other chemical safety experts are very clearly stating that this accident was caused by teacher error. But you don't want to talk about how this teacher was trained, whether she was qualified, and what societal standards resulted in her becoming a teacher?

    6. Anon6:37a: I don't have a problem with making political arguments about teacher education, etc -- that's fine by me, even if I may disagree with your reasoning. I think the letting-go of qualified teachers is probably more about money than anything else.

      The am-too-are-not in the previous comments was my concern.

    7. Sorry. I (anon 12:00pm) was being annoying.

      If conservative/liberal social motives are at fault for safety issues and bad teachers, though, then you'd expect that states with more conservative populations/governments (and probably less agreement with both unions and liberal social motives) would have better education systems (in terms of how their students produce subsequently - higher HS graduations in the short term, higher college graduation rates in the middle term) - in theory, they'd be hiring more effective teachers rather than teachers with the appropriate political agendas. That doesn't seem to be the case, although I'd be happy with data that would say otherwise.

      The TFA thing might also not be a liberal indoctrination thing but a "let's get cheap teachers" thing - if you're looking to cut costs without cutting schools (which gets you on the news, badly), trading expensive teachers for cheaper ones is an obvious move (especially when the consequences don't show up until after you're gone). Derek Lowe's theory that "if you don't know why someone is doing something, the likely reason is 'Money.' " might apply here instead of indoctrination.

      The liberal standards you decry are not well coupled to (not just distant from) the outcomes discussed.

    8. Anon 12:36, your analysis shows that your understanding of the inner workings of education in America is poor and shallow. Your reasoning is very surface level and inaccurate. It is much more complicated than what states are more conservative. States that have higher academic achievements are not conservative states, they are states with more white students without exception by the way.

      A large number of people in those states can hold liberal views while still having successful educational outcomes because their liberal policies do not affect them the way they affect other populations. For example, if a liberal has a strongly held belief that certain racial groups should not be held to a high standard of behavior in a classroom but that liberal's own community does not have that certain racial group, then it will not be the classrooms in their community that is destroyed by their policy but rather the classroom in somebody else's community where that certain population would be causing disruption in the learning environment.

      The liberal standards are very coupled but you fail to understand the nuances.

  11. Consider some properties of methanol involving flammability.

    % By Volume In Air

    6-6.7 Lower Explosive Limit
    36 Upper Explosive Limit

    11 C Flash Point

    Here are the expansion factors for methanol at room temperature of 22 C.
    600 sea level

    The volume of 1 L of liquid methanol converted to gas at room temperature is calculated using the Ideal Gas Law, giving the expansion factor.

    PV = nRT

    V = nRT/P

    R = 0.08206 L atm /(mol K)
    T (K) = 23 C + 273.15 = 296.15 K
    P = 1 atm

    density methanol liquid = 0.7918 g / cc
    1 L weighs 791.8 g
    MW methanol = 32.04186 g

    791.8 g / 32.04 g / mol = 24.71142 mol in 1 L methanol

    At sea level:
    Expansion factor = 600.5 = 24.7 mol * 0.8206 (L Atm)/(mole K) * 296.15 K / 1 atm

    Another factor is how fast liquid methanol can evaporate (heat of evaporation).

    Methanol has a higher LEL than gasoline.

    From Methanol Emergency Response:

    Compared with gasoline, methanol spills are harder to ignite, burn at a slower rate, and with less heat intensity. Methanol vapors must be four times more concentrated in air than gasoline vapor for ignition to occur.

    Methanol flames are almost invisible in bright sunlight conditions, but
    they may be detected by the heat generated or the burning of other
    materials. Large amounts of water will remove heat and can be effective
    in diluting methanol to the point where most fires can be readily
    extinguished. To prevent fires keep open flames, sparks and oxidants
    away from methanol.

    The issue is not about students "wearing safety goggles or aprons",
    but the teacher understanding about handling a flammable solvent.
    If flame gets to the source bottle of methanol,
    by adding more methanol to an item already burning with an 'invisible flame',
    the methanol can ignite and come out of the bottle like a blowtorch.
    If this happens then goggles and safety aprons may not help much.

    The video demo in the gothamist link shows the demo in a darkened room.
    More methanol is added with a squirt bottle (which seems safer),
    not an open liter or 4 liter bottle.

  12. A race track fire involving methanol demonstrates the difficulty of extinguishing a fire that is hard to see.
    If a person is on fire, it would probably be easier to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher if the person were laying down.

    Pit stop crew members and spectators fled from the 'invisible' methanol fire (text)

    When Rick Mears pitted on lap 58 (1981 Indianapolis 500), fuel began to gush from the refueling hose before it had been connected to the car. (video)

  13. News Stories About Methanol Fire And Explosion Accidents


    School Experiment That Burned Boy Was Focus of Federal Warning
    Published: January 3, 2014

    "Only weeks before a chemistry experiment sent a plume of fire across a Manhattan high school science lab, engulfing
    two students and leaving one with life-threatening burns, a federal safety agency issued a video warning of the
    dangers of the very same experiment, a common one across the country."

    "The agency, the United States Chemical Safety Board, distributed the video warning to its 60,000 subscribers..."

    Chemistry Lab Fire Injures 2 at a Manhattan High School
    Published: January 2, 2014


    California (Newhall) 1998
    Experiment at School Explodes, Burns 3 Students

    One of the burned students in the above story was later killed in a head on crash with a drunk driver.
    Drunk Driver Involved in Fatal Crash Gets 5 Years

    California (Bakersfield) 1999
    The glass bottle can explode and fragment:
    Methanol Blast in Class Sends 23 to Hospital

    Michigan 2000

    Washington 2004

    Ohio 2006
    From Good-Looking to Beautiful: Calais Weber’s Story of Tragedy & Triumph

    Students burned in lab fire settle

    Washington 2010
    Two men burned after igniting barrel with methanol inside

    Minnesota 2011

    Texas 2013
    Frisco student hospitalized after science experiment catches fire

    1. With further searching several more methanol school accidents were found.
      Some do not seem to have current news site links.
      I posted the previous list above.
      One wonders how many other incidents may be in offline pre-internet news archives.
      There are multiple incidents in CA and MI.
      Both of the methanol cannon incidents (CA and MI) are from 1998.
      I have not found the exact date for Michigan.
      Anyway word did not travel fast enough.

      Found a video of a methanol cannon demo.

      This demo included several safety tips:
      lab coat
      fire extinguisher
      audience at least 6 feet away if not more

      In this demo only 1 ml of methanol was in the container used to load the cannon.
      This demo did not include any mention of methanol flames being hard to see.
      This demo did not caution against reloading the cannon immediately
      while flame could still be present.
      This demo did not specifically caution against loading a cannon from a large source container.

      Huntington Beach
      2005 June 17
      student: Brian Cross

      QUOTE on Huntington Beach
      ``We want to ban methanol in the entire state of California, so it really
      doesn't make much difference what senator or assemblyman we use,'' Brian said.
      His accident happened a year ago on June 17, the last day of school. He is
      concerned that teachers be trained better and that precautions be required. He
      said no one in his chemistry class had a safety briefing or was provided with
      safety equipment or fire retardants.
      Brian said he followed his teacher's instructions, but he and another student
      were soon engulfed in flames on the balcony outside his classroom.

      New Berlin
      2002 March 11
      An analysis of Incident/Accident Reports from the Texas secondary
      school science safety survey, 2001

      Monday, March 11, 2002, seemed to be a typical spring day at New
      Berlin West High School in New Berlin, Wisconsin, until something horribly
      unexpected occurred during a chemistry demonstration in the school
      auditorium. A chemistry teacher was igniting chloride and methyl alcohol
      mixtures to show the variety of chloride emissions when a sudden burst of
      flames shot into the audience of students. Immediately, four female
      students suffered extensive burns to the face, neck, hands, and arms.
      (Hetzner, 2002)

      2001 October
      Chemistry labs scene of accidents
      High school chemistry labs not always safe for students, teachers

      In recent years, it also has caused flash fires at schools in Santa Clarita and Riverside, Calif.;
      Genoa, Ill.; Midland, Texas; New Berlin, Wis., and Washington, D.C.
      It has also caused explosions in which students were injured by flying glass.
      Seven students were burned in a flash fire involving methanol
      at Genoa-Kingston High School in Illinois while observing a demonstration of flame tests.

      Waverly High School (Michigan) student
      burned over 50% of her body
      when the teacher's "methanol cannon" demonstration exploded
      student: Christine Jurus

  14. (this one is actually rather funny)

  15. States limit what chemicals and their concentrations that public high schools teachers can have on hand, and also specify what experiments are allowed. I can't say I'm a fan of tying teachers' hands in such a way if they have the education, experience, and facilities to safely perform a demonstration, but most high schools lack a fume hood and college education programs focus on pedagogy. Focusing on pedagogy is good for many subjects, but not science, especially chemistry and some might also argue physics and biology. (Although, I've never heard of any students losing an eye in an air track elastic collision experiment or frog dissection gone wrong.) Given the importance of live demonstrations of chemistry, I've notice that many professional chemists have started reaching out to schools to try and give demonstrations safely. In grad school there was a group that would give a chemistry show to local area students, and my current employer has a similar outreach with staff chemists giving demonstrations. Demonstrations by professional chemists are still limited by state laws on what is allowable if the demos are given at the school, and many school districts are not inclined to have groups from outside come in and assist with teaching activities as noted in some recent CE&N articles and letters to the editor.

    I’m saddened to read articles on students being injured in chemistry demonstrations gone awry, but clearly the methanol demonstration of emission lines has safety problems. Other commenters have pointed out that water solutions using a Bunsen burner and nichrome wire would be a safer alternative, and I’m quick to agree. Do teachers trust that students are able to safely hand the burner themselves; however, or should this also be a demo performed at the front of the classroom?

    I think another good alternative would be for high school students to attend a local college’s chemistry ‘magic’ show. Both universities that I attended had one, and the demonstrations were WAY better than anything I ever saw in public high school. They were done by trained chemists, and the lecture rooms had the people and facilities to do the demos safely. This probably isn't an option for all schools, but for some it might work.

  16. this is what happens when you try to make chemistry attention-grabbing, and to what end

    1. Exactly. The emphasis now is on hiring young, "fresh", fun, popular teachers and on making learning "fun" for students. Many of these teachers are not particularly qualified in the academic areas they are teaching either. What a joke. And the guy above whose wife made the same mistake but got lucky--WTF is she a chemistry teacher? Shouldn't she teach like second grade like other low IQ teachers? And don't tell me she is clever. A clever person doesn't pour methanol from a jug over a fire to get their students all excited about how "cool" chemistry is. Ooh, look at the pretty colors! Yeah, what are you five?

    2. Given the stuff that I've seen make it into some high-profile journals, I don't think too many people out-grow the "pretty colors!!!" phase.

  17. So tragic to learn of all these HS Chemistry accidents.

    NMH, I still remember that explosion when I was an 8th grade science student. Hmm..oh ya, lets see what this bigger chunk of sodium or potassium (don't remember which) will do. The beaker shattered, and fortunately, no one in the class was hurt.

    I think it's difficult for someone fresh from undergrad degree to have enough chemical intuition, especially if they didn't work in a research lab, and if they didn't research each demo carefully. Maybe school districts and private school teachers need special approval to teach chemistry? Partnership w/ local university or industry would help if such resource is accessible, but still can't substitute for day-to-day classroom teaching.

    I think the "classical" way of doing this is with methanol, but agree w/ modifications to this demo....spray metal soln into open flame (for demonstration), and/or dipping wooden splints into aqueous metal ion solutions and then placing in flame (for individual/group expt). Alternatively, we've sprinkled small amounts of metal salts onto bunsen burner flame using a spatula, not to mention one can add crushed up Mg turnings or Fe for added sparkles. Certainly, I can understand if a classroom isn't equipped with chemical hoods or bunsen burner, and have to light with a match. The problem here seems to be working with large amounts of solvents with an open flame... Perhaps using limited amounts of diluted ethanol or isopropyl alcohol solution might work as substitution for 100% MeOH?

    Demos like this colored flame is fun, and is what makes people interested in chemistry. Part of learning chemistry (at every level) is learning to work safely with and around chemicals, and teaching students to be respectful of chemicals. Hope everyone have a safe 2014!

    1. "I think the "classical" way of doing this is with methanol, but agree w/ modifications to this demo....spray metal soln into open flame (for demonstration), and/or...."

      All great ideas. Now, how many science teachers at the HS (or even college) level think this far ahead: to modify the experiment to increase safety? Think of the conseqeunces of their actions?

      When I was teaching HS I had at least 3 different preparations (Biology, Chemistry, Physiology) and the first year I was rushing through information quickly just to get some grasp of how to present the material and make it interesting, much less thinking if a Demo from Bassam Shakhashiri book's was REALLY 100% safe.

      I bet these kind of incidents are more likely in countries where thinking ahead is not emphasized (my guess: China).

  18. "How electrons react with different chemicals?" Anyone else find this to be kind of a weird description?

    1. Drives me nuts that every description of this is completely wrong! A better demo for teachers would be showing how when you mix ORGANIC VAPORS and OXYGEN you get an explosion. This would help students in the real world.

  19. I really wish HS chemistry would do less demonstrations. Yes, they are fun but they really need to be performed by someone who has safety training. These teachers most likely don't have this training, many have probably taken some college classes, that's it.

    Surely some organization (hint hint ACS) could put together a curricula of safe and fun chem demos for educators and provide high quality video of the more wiz bang chem demos. To me, this seems like it should be a high priority for ACS chem education division.

    I just think most HS don't have the proper facilities for some of these demos. Most don't have hoods, for example

    1. It looks like someone tried to get something started. I wonder what ever happened to that?
      There are enough demos out there that are great to watch, but couldn't possibly hurt anyone (the red cabbage indicator is a good example, also the laser through tonic water). Is there any way to promote those?

    2. You might as well ban chemistry in schools if you favour a shitty cabbage indicator over what students like, which is fire, bangs, and excitement. I am glad the motion towards the demos above failed, and in my teaching will do everything in my power to keep the fun stuff in chemistry, keep interest high, and not bow to the level of mediocrity desired by those that would take these experiments and demos from chemistry.

  20. Quit trying to kill student interest in chemistry, Unstable Isotope

    1. But with fewer trained Chemists wages go up.

      Oh wait, their are zillions of Chinese and Indians just waiting to come here....

  21. One point that I would raise as being incredibly important is the fact that Methanol burns with a colorless flame. This was briefly mentioned above (anonymous, 1/5/2014; 9:37AM), . Colorless flames are a HUGE safety issue, since you can't see what is on fire easily. In my research group, I always recommend against large scale hydrogenations in methanol if they would would in another solvent (such as Ethanol) for this very reason (and the knowledge of some bad accidents).

    Plus side for the experiment with methanol is that the blue flame of ethanol/isopropanol/bunsen burner doesn't distort/obscure the emission line spectrum color of the metal ion (Red for Lithium etc). Often when one sees colors from a methanol fire, it is the other things in the fire burning (such as bits of paper, sodium ions boiling off the borosilicate glass).

    Negative side: you can't see what is on fire. From above "Methanol flames are almost invisible in bright sunlight conditions, but they may be detected by the heat generated or the burning of other materials." Realistically, if a student/postdoc spilled methanol on themselves, they can easily set themselves on fire and not even realize it until bad burns are setting in.

    I would personally recommend that this experiment never be done with methanol.

  22. I am deeply disappoint that a blog cite for chemists descends into a discussion of dichotomous variables of political affiliation"contributing to teachers to be hired that are more likely to cause accidents. I was a molecular biologist and went on to become a nutritional scientist with considerable training in epidemiology. Conservative and liberal are ill-defined terms for which it would be hard to define the specific criteria to dichotomize people into categories rigorous enough to make any statements about causation about anything. Seriously, does someone have the definitive checklist for classification here?

    On an anecdotal level, my father was a civil engineer and obsessed with safety issues. He was Assistant County Supervisor for Public Works for Marin County and had to deal with politicians on a routine basis. He dealt with the consequences of floods, drought and fire - and politicians. His obsession with fire was so great that I am sure that is the reason my brother went on to be a firefighter, arson inspector, and paramedic. My father's most satisfying "I told you so" moment was when the apartment complex that a politician approved over his objections collapsed in a mud slide before anyone moved in. We had to listen to nine months of his muttering "first good rain and that complex will slide right down the hill". In his totally anecdotal opinion, awareness of safety issues and responsiveness in a crisis have much more to do with "good sense" than one's political affiliations.

    Having lived and worked in many developing countries (over 33) in enough situations where "good sense" can be essential to survival, I have never seen any correlation whatsoever between political affiliation and "good sense". My father also saw no association between academic training and "good sense" either. And my anecdotal experience mirrors his on that count too.

    1. Also, neither Bronx Science where Ms Poole taught Physical Science or Beacon where she is teaching Chemistry, can be considered to be typical of schools in the United States or even in New York City. Both are considered "elite" schools.

      Bronx Science is a specialized high school from which boast 8 Nobel Prize winners among its graduates - 7 in physics and 1 in chemistry. To get into Bronx Science you must take a test in Math and English that is very much logic based. That single test determines whether or not you get into Bronx Science and seven of the other "specialized" schools. La Guardia is the exception because of its focus on the performing arts.

      Beacon High School is part of the elite end of the "screened" schools. This year Beacon High School used grades, attendance, statewide tests, a project portfolio, letters of recommendation, an essay, an interview, and a second on the spot essay while students wait for the interview. Parents lined up 2 hours before the opening for the tour for this school and the line stretched around the building for at least a city block.

      These are not the type of schools that hire "cheap teachers". These are the type of schools that attract the "best teachers" because the students are highly motivated. Now, one can argue that the outgoing principal of Bronx Science may have discouraged some of the better teachers who left because of her micromanagement, but I seriously don't think it is all that relevant.

      What is relevant is that it is hard to screen for "good sense" in terms of prevention and "good sense" in terms of reaction to catastrophic events. Yes you can apply more regulations and rules and increase safety. No you cannot ever predict everything that can go wrong.

    2. You are naive.

  23. Note two followup stories about safety and these incidents.


    January 7th, 2014 • 01:01
    Performing the ‘rainbow’ flame test demo safely
    By Jyllian Kemsley • Posted in Accidents, K-12 schools • 1 Comment


    Lab Incident at a Manhattan High School: Another Hard Safety Lesson to Learn
    By Kenneth Roy | Published: January 6, 2014

  24. Just found another incident, not on the lists above that were posted by me.
    Fortune smiled this time with 'only' second degree burns.


    Lincoln Park High School Student Suffers Burns From Chem Lab Fire

    Students hospitalized after chemical lab fire

    Lincoln Park High School Student Left With 2nd-Degree Burns After Lab Fire

    5 students injured in chemistry class accident at Lincoln Park High School

    It sounds as though the container may have shattered due to an explosion upon ignition.
    But it almost as though it is being dumbed down and dressed up as something else.


    The fire started when students were doing an experiment with methanol and the vessel holding the burning methanol shattered.

    The children were doing an experiment utilizing methanol in a small container and the container broke while it was ignited and some of the burning liquid spilled on top of a work table.

    The fire started after a chemical-filled glass container that had been set aflame broke, and the contents spilled on a table while still on fire, Assistant Deputy Fire Commissioner Mark Nielsen said.

    Nielsen said the class was experimenting with methanol, which was in the container that started the fire.

    "Nothing suspicious at all, the container simply broke," he said."

    Methanol was being burned inside a container that shattered, causing the chemical to spill, Fire Media Affairs Director Larry Langford said.

    A “mechanical malfunction” caused a small fire, Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Keiana Barrett said.

    How about we rewrite Hiroshima, something like:
    "No explosion here, the neutrons simply started bouncing around pretty fast."
    Or, a malfunction of the uranium isotopes.

    On Chemjobber there is another post with a link to a case where the container broke:

    Anonymous(by me) January 10, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    Example of the explosion shattering the container:
    Methanol Blast in Class Sends 23 to Hospital
    September 01, 1999

    Two milliliters of flammable methanol in a clear glass bottle "about the size of a Sparkletts water bottle" caused the accident, Patlan said.

    Compare this 2 ml with 1 ml used in the acsundergrad video.

    The acs guys look like they know what they are doing.
    They could possilby have posted a longer list of warnings.
    In the video a plastic container is used that will not shatter.
    Someone may try that at home and make various modifications.


    CHICAGO ILLINOIS Nov 25, 2013
    MANHATTAN, NEW YORK Jan 2 , 2014
    FRISCO, TEXAS Sept 9, 2013

    The education system should/could handle safety better.

    "Re-occurring safety incidents and serious injuries are a symptom that the system is not functioning properly."

    One poster had the idea that the problem could be solved by creating a department of education at the federal level:
    1/4/14, 10:55 AM
    Crimso said...
    "If only we had a Dept. of Education at the Federal level. Such an entity could be instrumental in seeing to it that every single chemistry teacher in the country knows better than to mix methanol and flames to ooh and ahh the kids."

    Los Angeles County appeared to jump on this problem after 1998.
    But Manhattan did not get the word.
    And why can US Dept Of Education or NSTA National Science Teachers Association not get the word out to EVERYONE?
    Aside from pain/suffering and possible death, there is LIABILITY.
    But it is not their money - schools/taxpayers pay (exception being the UCLA professor charged).

    Students burned in lab fire settle (OHIO 2006)
    "Western Reserve Academy agrees to pay $18.95 million to two seriously hurt in class"

  26. So sad... stupid teacher sorry but this couldn't be happened

  27. CPS has commented on kids getting to school safely.

    Violence plagues some new 'Safe Passage' routes
    August 23, 2013
    By Alex Keefe and Elliott Ramos
    “Any crime near our schools underscores the importance of partnering with community-based Safe Passage vendors and workers to help our children get to and from school safely,” CPS spokeswoman Keiana Barrett was quoted as saying in an email to WBEZ late Friday.


    Back to school in Chicago: Fights over closings, safety, budgets, and control

    Barrett also touted the city’s Safe Passage program, saying, “our sister agencies and responsible community members throughout the city, our students were able to travel safely to and from the first day of school with no incidents.”

    Unplanned consequence of using small fans for cooling students:

    What Could Go Wrong? Chicago Hands Out Tiny Electric Fans to Students
    Via the Chicago Sun-Times:
    Shortly after the fans were distributed at Smyser Elementary School, where only the upper grades have air conditioning, a 6-year-old’s hair got caught in her fan and her teacher had to cut it out, according to the girl’s mother, Suzanne Kusar.
    Update: First-grader’s hair gets caught in fan handed out by CPS

    One wonders whether the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) spokesperson knows that the methanol incident was probably a small explosion, not a "mechanical malfunction".

    From just a quote in the news, hard to say.
    Could be ignorance, or CYA.
    Hey parents, your kids are really safe with us.
    Did anyone say explos#&@?

    Does anyone else find it highly coincidental that the CONTAINER BROKE WHILE IT WAS IGNITED, and that THE VESSEL HOLDING THE BURNING

    METHANOL SHATTERED. And again, METHANOL WAS BEING BURNED INSIDE A CONTAINER THAT SHATTERED. Putting the info together, it sure sounds like the container shattered when it was ignited.

    News stories and the ACS demo show that as little as 1 to 2 ml of methanol can cause an explosion that can shatter the container.
    Since methanol has an expansion factor of 600 at sea level, 1 ml of methanol gives 600 ml of pure methanol vapor.

    LEL of 6-6.7
    UEL of 36

    Where LEL = Lower Explosive Limit and UEL = Upper explosive Limit

    This means that when mixed evenly with air, 1 ml of methanol liquid can give from 600 ml / 0.36 = 1667 ml to 600 ml / 0.06 = 10000

    ml of explosive vapor. Or 1.6 L to 10 L.

    For a 4 L bottle of methanol liquid, time 4000.
    6667 L to 40,000 L.

    Now 1 cm ^ 3 = 1 cubic centimeter.
    Since 1 cm ^ 3 = 1 ml then 1 m ^ 3 = 100 ^ 3 cm = 1,000,000 cm ^ 3.
    Since 1000 cm ^ 3 = 1 L then:
    1 m ^ 3 = 1000 L

    For a 4 L bottle of methanol liquid:
    6.667 cubic meters to 40 cubic meters of explosive/flammable vapor.

    Anyone who has seen a gallon of gasoline explode knows that there should also be a lot of energy contained in 4 L of methanol.

    Call me JJ

  28. Methanol tanker truck fire and explosion

    The fire is invisible in sunlight.
    Helicopter with IR camera shows flames better.
    Firefighters did not get to see how close the flames of the explosion came to them until viewing the IR video later.

    Signet North America

    Also recommend again the Rick Mears video above.
    A person aflame is very difficult to extinguish when the flames are invisible.
    Those afire were so desperate that they grabbed the end of the fire extinguisher hose to point it themselves.

    We know that there was a recent safety warning:

    December 11th, 2013 • 10:12
    Lab safety is critical in high school, too
    The U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board yesterday released a new video, “After the Rainbow,” that features a student injured in a high school laboratory fire. Calais Weber was 15 years old when her teacher poured methanol on an open flame in front of students at her desk. An explosion and fire ensued, and Weber was burned over 40% of her body.

    These can be spread out over the years.

    Flame Tests Performed Safely
    8/29/2005 - Deborah Dogancay

    Not every new teacher can or will speed-read years back through the archives.
    There has to be an institutional memory.
    And this is not totally working in the governmental educational bureaucracy.

    Colored flames would seem to be in demand by magicians, alchemists in old days, and how about wizards Hogwarts style?

    Lamp for producing colored flame

    Student Questions
    Science at Hogwarts—Chemistry in Harry Potter’s World
    spectra of colored flames produced by a variety of elements

    Another blog reference
    Voxitatis® Blog
    Pretty colors & dangerous fire in a chem experiment

    Call me JJ

  29. And here are links for a number of Rainbow Flame type demos.

    Colored Flames (includes photos)
    How to: make Colored Flames
    Posted on 13 December 2011 by Markham
    5th grade science project rainbow flame
    Rainbow Flame
    George Daniel
    Rainbow Flames with SPARKLES
    Mr. Sprinkles
    Sodium Calcium and Strontium Flame Test (Make Yellow, Orange, and Red Fire)
    Burn Pure Methanol Vs Pure Ethanol
    Nikola Todorov
    How to Make a Rainbow in a Glass

    Consider the situation of a chemistry or science teacher doing the 'Rainbow Flame' demonstration/experiment.
    Presumably the teacher will usually have some chemistry classes or a science or chemistry degree.
    In these classes if the flammable/explosive hazard was not greatly emphasized in detail,
    a student could presumably forget.
    Would a substitute teach do the demo?

    Suppose that a teacher had once seen a full to the rim bottle of ethanol set ablaze,
    which presumably could happen without an explosion or larger fire.
    That is because there may not be enough explosive gas mixture at the top of the bottle for that.
    Not all teachers may have fully considered what can happen.
    Consider also that a teacher is multi-tasking, explaining things to a class when the flame runs low, or even appears to have gone out when it is actually burning invisibly (if lights are on).
    If someone is multi-tasking, then a mistake is more likely, and more methanol could be poured from a stock bottle.
    Not every student experiments with fire, and less with explosions, or tries igniting all common solvents (hopefully small amounts).
    And not every chemistry major even, may know or remember that methanol can burn with an 'invisible' flame.
    Or having done the 'Rainbow Flame' experiment before and nothing happened, it is then assumed it must be safe.

    We know this kind of accident happens, over and over.
    And it seems likely to happen again.

    Aside from apparently inadequate supervision, warnings, safety rules by the government bureaucracy, one wonders why the company selling these 'Rainbow Flame' kits does not include more dire warnings. Or maybe they do?
    What is the name of the company?

    Call me JJ

  30. Here is an idea.
    How is a safety warning to compete with these flashy videos and demos?
    A demo video could be made of methanol being poured into a flame from a stock bottle (by a robot),
    with a couple mannequins in front.
    Make it start with the 'Rainbow Flame' demo.
    Then it all goes bad - "Bad Robot" anyone?
    Get some organizations with film and robotic experience involved,
    maybe a Hollywood producer and stunt experts.
    Publish/post the video and see if it gets more hits than the other videos.

    The burned students who won the 18.95 million donated $100,000 to safety training.
    Students burned in lab fire settle
    The families and Perantinides' law firm are using at least $100,000 of the settlement to launch the Ohio Schools

    Science Safety Program, developed by Jack Gerlovich, a science-education professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
    Gerlovich's company's motto is ''The best safety tool is an informed science teacher,'' Perantinides said.

    Maybe a philanthropist would be interested in creating such a video.
    If you want to prevent a child from getting malaria,
    it seems you might also be interested in preventing one more high school student from getting burned.

    One other comment.
    All incidents on the list seem to be in the USA.
    Is the Rainbow Flame-like demo done in other countries?

    Call me JJ

  31. Along the lines of a demo video,
    a reconstruction has been done by a law firm.

    A photo (probably from a video) is on this link,
    and it shows a mannequin getting flamed.
    It appears a person in safety gear is the one directing the methanol flame thrower.

    There is also a testimonial from Autum Burton.

    Call me JJ

  32. About the post on January 16, 2014 by me:

    It appears the total has gone up from 3 to 5.


    MANHATTAN, NEW YORK Jan 2 , 2014
    CHICAGO ILLINOIS Nov 25, 2013
    ATHENS, GA OCTOBER 3, 2013
    FRISCO, TEXAS Sept 9, 2013




    student still hospitalized - burned
    chemical experiment - high school science lab
    flash explosion injured four students and teacher
    two students required hospitalization
    Tolleson Union High School District
    after school science club experiment
    La Joya Community High School in Avondale
    about 10 people inside
    chemical experiment - went awry
    students mixed chloride - Strontium, Copper and Sodium
    different color flames
    The school district reported three students were injured.

    3 La Joya H.S. students burned in science experiment

    ATHENS, GA OCTOBER 3, 2013
    Athens Banner-Herald

    Douglas County teen rescues burning student
    by AP published Saturday, October 5, 2013
    WSB-TV Atlanta GA
    Friday, Oct. 4, 2013

    Student catches fire at school during demonstration

    CHHS student who caught fire expected to make full recovery

    She has burns on about 25 percent of her upper body, Douglas County Schools Superintendent Dr.

    Gordon Pritz said in an emailed statement.

    The incident happened at an Advanced Placement Open House during a science demonstration where

    students were identifying chemicals by the color of their flame when burning.

    During the process, a flammable liquid ignited and caught the student on fire.

    Official Douglas County High School Newspaper

    Experiment Disaster at Douglas County?
    Ashley Whitley, Staff Writer
    October 4, 2013 •

    a student from Chapel Hill High School caught fire on October 3rd
    accident took place around 7:00 pm
    during an Advanced Placement demonstration
    group of AP student were in the hallway
    identifying chemicals by the color of its flame when things went awry, Atlanta Injury Attorneys, has a page with this story on their legal blog



    Chapel Hill High School student catches on fire during presentation
    10:53 PM, Oct 4, 2013
    Greg Rossino

    A surveillance camera caught the accident. The footage shows a flammable liquid used during the

    demonstration igniting.

    Note that there have been students burned in middle schools also with this Rainbow Flame type

    A similar demo is igniting a bottle full of methanol vapors.

    So 5 in 5 months.
    Anyone else think this is pathetic?

    Call me JJ

  33. When I was a graduate student at San Francisco State University, we taught the inorganic qualitative identification lab in the second semester of freshman chemistry. Every student performed the same chemistry as the failed experiment at Beacon High, in addition to a variety of precipitation reactions. Freshman laboratory texts that teach the inorganic qual schemes invariably use a wire ring. The ring is dipped into solution and positioned over a bunsen burner. The cation is identified by the color of the flame. The qual scheme was used without incident for over a decade at SF state. I was a TA at SF State in the 70's. Everyone wore lab coats and safety glasses. I don't like this version of experiment with the pipets. It still requires a bulk volume of methanol in proximity to the experiment. The wire ring brings only aqueous solutions near the flame. Little can go wrong as has been demonstrated by use of the inorganic qual scheme for many decades at many universities and colleges. My heart goes out to the injured students and the teacher that must live with this unfortunate mistake.

  34. Update on Rainbow Flame incident in Chicago.

    News reports at the time were vague about the type of experiment and mode of failure, fire or explosion.

    CHICAGO ILLINOIS Nov 25, 2013
    Lincoln Park High School Student Suffers Burns From Chem Lab Fire

    CHEMJOBBER posted an update on this on April 18, 2014.
    "Lawsuit stemming from November 2013 rainbow flame incident"

    The mother of a student who was burned "is suing the school, Chicago Public Schools and the teacher involved".

    It took a news story about a lawsuit for the news to come out that this was a Rainbow Flame type experiment.

    If the Assistant Deputy Fire Commissioner or the Fire Media Affairs Director or the Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said in more detail what exactly happened there, it was not reported by the news media. The news media have an excuse. Chicago is only the 3rd biggest news market in the country, after LA and New York. Contrast the reporting on the Chicago incident with that of the New York (Manhattan) incident in early January 2014.

    Call me JJ

  35. Update on 'Fire Tornado' variation of the Rainbow Flame experiment in Reno.

    This was reported by CHEMJOBBER on September 4, 2014.
    "Methanol "tornado" experiment goes awry"

    The nbc news story has a video that shows the blowtorch effect of the ignited methanol bottle.
    "Reno Museum Flash Fire: Employee Error Blamed in Burning Incident"

    There is a new update on Sep 15, 2014 from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

    Statement of CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso Warning Against Use of Methanol During Laboratory and Classroom Combustion Demonstrations, in the Wake of Reno, Nevada, Museum Fire

    This new statement came out on the same day as another methanol fire at a school in Denver Colorado.
    Agency Urges Science Demo Changes After Reno Fire
    LAS VEGAS — Sep 15, 2014, 6:45 PM ET
    By MICHELLE RINDELS Associated Press
    "The U.S. Chemical Safety Board's recommendation Monday cited the Sept. 3 blaze at the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum, and it came on the same day an experiment involving methanol burned four students in a Denver high school chemistry lab."

    "The accident occurred on the same day a federal agency recommended schools change the way they perform dangerous experiments."
    "The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates chemical accidents, issued a warning Monday against using methanol in laboratory and school demonstrations, citing the Nevada fire."

    Call me JJ

  36. With the new school year, methanol incidents resume, after a quiet hiatus over the summer.
    First methanol school fire of the season is in Denver on September 15, 2014.
    The school is a SMART Academy, a Science, Math and Arts Academy charter school.
    "Strive Prep School is a Denver Public Schools charter school located at 3201 West Arizona Avenue."
    "4 Students Hurt, At Least 1 Seriously, In Lab Fire At SMART Academy"
    Denver high school chemistry laboratory
    3 students treated and released
    1 student transferred to another facility
    The teacher is a first year teacher.

    Other links:
    "Chemistry lab fire at Strive Prep school sends 4 students to hospital with burn injuries"
    "4 Denver students burned in lab accident"

    As usual, the fire is described as small.
    "Four students were taken to the hospital for treatment after a small fire erupted in a chemistry lab Monday morning."
    Oftentimes it is reported that the fire was put out quickly.
    "The fire was put out relatively quickly in the Strive Preparatory School in the Lalo Delgado campus in the 3200 block of West Arizona Avenue."
    But not to worry, the room is still structurally sound.
    "He said while the fire damaged some of the materials inside the classroom, the room is structurally sound."
    As usual, school officials do not know what experiment was being performed.
    "School officials could not say what kind of experiment was being done."

    Call me JJ

  37. There is now a posting on cenblog about the Denver and also Reno incidents.

    "Denver student hit in chest with jet of flaming methanol"
    Posted By Jyllian Kemsley on Sep 17, 2014

    The Denver incident may be a Rainbow Flame demonstration. According to the quote from cenblog below (and also a story on thedenverchannel), only methanol burning is mentioned. But it seems unlikely that the teacher would demonstrate only that, when more flashy and glamorous and showcasey demonstrations are possible.

    "At a press briefing yesterday, Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board investigators spoke about what they’ve learned so far regarding an incident at a Denver high school that sent four students to the hospital on Monday: The teacher lit a small pool of methanol to demonstrate its flame properties. When the flame didn’t rise as high as desired, he added more methanol from a 4 L container. The fire flashed back into the container, then emerged as a “jet fire” that traveled 15 ft to hit a student in the chest. That student was wearing a synthetic shirt and was seriously injured, others sitting nearby were also hurt."

    The cenblog post also has more info on the Reno museum incident. The quote below shows how the person doing the demonstration can modify the procedure over repeated demonstrations, making the demo unsafe.

    "Also, back when the museum started using the demo, demonstrators had left the 4 L bottle in another area, taking out to the demo table only the amount needed. “Out of convenience, over time, the 4 L container itself had started being used in the demonstration,” CSB inspector Mark Wingard said."

    The cenblog post also lists all of the stories from "roughly the past year either definitely were or sound like methanol fires". All of the incidents listed were first posted in one location on

    Call me JJ

  38. There is quite a contrast to the meager news coverage that the Chicago area news media were able to muster up on the Nov. 25, 2013 Rainbow Flame incident in Chicago, and the coverage of the latest methanol fire in a school by the Denver news media.

    The news media in the Denver area came out with initial reports on the methanol fire on September 15 that were incomplete. The more detailed coverage on September 16 2014 by 7NEWS ( is excellent. They took this story seriously and jumped on it.

    Teacher in methanol fire not adequately trained, investigating agency finds
    Strive Prep School student seriously injured
    Keli Rabon, Marshall Zelinger
    5:44 PM, Sep 16, 2014
    12:05 AM, Sep 17, 2014

    The text and video stories cover the hazards of methanol, with flames hard to see, and the Rainbow Flame experiment, complete with a telephone interview with Daniel Horowitz of the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), and a demonstration of the Rainbow Flame experiment by "Dr. Scott Cowley, a professor emeritus at the Colorado School of Mines Department of Chemistry and Geochemistry".

    According to the CSB some of the problems are:

    Amount of methanol
    Lack of training
    Not following guidelines

    Quote from CSB's Daniel Horowitz on the denverchannel web site:
    "What we'd like to see as an agency is don't use any flammable if you don't have to. A lot of these demonstrations like the rainbow test can be done without any flammable liquid at all using water-based techniques."

    The web site also indicates that the experiment was a demonstration of methanol burning, but it seems likely it was the Rainbow Flame demonstration:
    "According to CSB investigators, the chemistry teacher was demonstrating the burning properties of methanol by igniting the liquid to create a flame in front of students. When the flame didn't rise as high as he had hoped, he poured more methanol onto the flame, according to investigators."

    According to thedenverchannel one of the students was severely injured and was taken to a burn unit.

    7NEWS's Marshall Zelinger:
    "You would support methanol not being used anymore."

    Dr. Cowley:
    "I think it can be used safely but I think there's too many people out there that aren't experienced enough to know how to handle it safely."

    Is a student to try to find a safe seat during demonstrations, like finding a safer seat on an airplane? In this case "all of the students who were hurt were sitting in the back of the room". Usually it is the students close to the demo who get hurt.

    Call me JJ

  39. Eight fires in one year

    Expanded list of fires:

    Sept. 9, 2013, in Frisco, TX
    Oct. 3, 2013, in Douglasville, GA
    Nov. 12, 2013, in Avondale, AZ
    Nov. 25, 2013, in Chicago, IL
    Jan. 2, 2014, in Manhattan, NY
    Feb. 19, 2014 in Chicago, IL
    April 9, 2014 in Indianapolis, IN
    Sept. 3, 2014 in Reno, NV
    Sept. 15, 2014 in Denver, CO

    This list posted for the first time on chemjobber shows 8 fires in school or museum demonstrations or labs. Or 9 in just over a year.

    The list does not include the hot chocolate on a gas burner fire at Northside College Prep in Chicago on Feb. 19, 2014, or the incident in Indianapolis on April 9, 2014 where a high school teacher poured ethanol on a student's arm and lit it on fire. Well, it worked on a table top and the table did not complain.
    "Teacher charged with crime after classroom experiment goes awry"
    April 9, 2014 in Indianapolis, IN
    by Bianca Facchinei
    "At Least Three Chicago High School Students Injured After Lab Fire"

    "Firefighters, paramedics, and a hazmat team arrived at the school and are still trying to determine whether it was the gas or the chocolate that caught fire."

    What do you think?

    Call me JJ

  40. "Boss, boss" yelled Custodial Fireman Danny Walls [on the 2nd floor, to School custodian Dimitri Stefanopoulos], and that there was a fire in the 3rd floor lab.

    Moments before a fire had erupted in the 3rd floor science classroom at Beacon High School in Manhattan on January 2, 2014.

    Teacher Anna Poole poured more methanol onto an experiment [the Rainbow Experiment] after the flames had died down, from a one gallon container.

    Student A caught the brunt of the jet of flaming methanol that erupted from the bottle and engulfed him. "Help me", Student A managed to yell. Student D and then Anna Poole tried to use a 20 pound fire extinguisher. Both were unable to unclip it. A fire extinguisher has a pin that is held in place by a flimsy plastic tie. The pin has to be pulled before the fire extinguisher can be operated.

    "Student D ran from his desk and grabbed a fire extinguisher, but was unable to unclip it. Poole grabbed the fire extinguisher, but also was not able to unclip it."

    "Poole ran out of the classroom to get Teacher Shum who returned with a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket. Poole, Shum, and Teacher Covotsos now were in the classroom. Shum threw the fire blanket on Student A and sprayed Student A with the fire extinguisher. Poole also discharged the contents of a fire extinguisher."

    "Stefanopoulos said that the safety equipment present in Room 317 at the time of the incident included 20 pound fire extinguishers, eye wash stations, and a box of goggles, but there was no protective clothing, such as aprons."

    The quotes above are from the report below:
    06-14 Beacon Experiment Rpt.pdf
    June 26, 2014

    The report does not indicate that any of the fire extinguishers were not present or were not in working condition. Perhaps because some of those trying to use the extinguisher failed to pull the clip, some reporters may have jumped to conclusions in their reporting to the effect that the extinguisher was not working.
    ‘Oh my god I set a kid on fire’
    By Laura Italiano
    June 26, 2014

    "Chemistry teacher Anna Poole improperly poured explosive methanol from a gallon jug onto a still-burning experiment — then had no fire blanket or working extinguisher on hand to douse the boy as he writhed in agony, according to the report, issued Thursday by the Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools."

    Laura Italiano wrote that the fire extinguisher was not "working". There is nothing to indicate this in the report.

    The facts have changed again by the next day when Meghan DeMaria reports on the story, and the fire extinguisher is missing in action.
    Chemistry teacher accidentally sets high schooler on fire
    Meghan DeMaria
    "To make matters worse, Poole didn't have a fire extinguisher or fire blanket in the classroom, leaving Yanes in unassisted pain until another teacher stepped in and provided Yanes with a fire blanket."

    While true there was no fire blanket, now there was no fire extinguisher in the room at all.
    Are we to believe the mutating facts, or School custodian Dimitri Stefanopoulos?
    The report indicates that two fire extinguishers were used.

    "Stefanopoulos entered Room 317 and saw that the entire room was covered with orange powder. Stefanopoulos explained that two fire extinguishers had been discharged and released the orange residue throughout Poole's classroom."

    It seems more likely the reporters confused the facts. Dimitri is quoted in the report as saying that those fire extinguishers were there and they were used so they must have been "working". School custodian Dimitri Stefanopoulos did his job and had "working" fire extinguishers in those rooms.

    Call me JJ

  41. Follow-up stories on the Denver fire. Teacher Fired.

    Dan Elliot with Associated Press wrote another story.
    When classroom science goes haywire, experiments can hurt
    Article Last Updated: Tuesday, September 23, 2014 6:45pm
    Teacher Fired After Lab Accident at School Burns 4-100714
    DENVER — Oct 7, 2014, 6:26 PM ET
    Denver teacher fired after causing chemical fire that injured 4 students
    Lindsay Watts
    2:48 PM, Oct 7, 2014
    Denver teacher fired after chemistry class fire

    Reports of the teacher being fired after one of these incidents have been rare. This teacher was in his first few days of his first high school teaching job and so had no seniority and new people may be on probation. The teacher in Indiana was not only fired but also arrested and charged with crimes.

    The Denver teacher had a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Denver.

    One case involved a retired professional chemist who was teaching high school.

    One student remains in the hospital.

    Call me JJ

  42. Update on Denver school fire.

    Student Dominic Vargas got out of the hospital about 6 days ago.

    News came out on October 22, 2014 that the teacher has been charged. He was not arrested. He was served with a summons.

    From the Denver Post:

    "Daniel Powell, 24, has been served with a summons charging him with four counts of third-degree assault, a class 1 misdemeanor, the Denver Distrtict Attorney said in a news release Wednesday ."

    "As a chemistry teacher at a high school using those materials, his behavior was negligent," said Lynn Kimbrough, district attorney spokeswoman.

    "Powell was served a summons on Friday. Because the charges are misdemeanors, he is free without bond."

    "He is scheduled to appear in Denver County Court on Nov. 18."

    There is a photo in the links below of the teacher in the classroom on August 27.
    The fire happened on Sept 15, 2014.
    The teacher graduated earlier this year with a bachelor's in chemistry.
    So he was in his first 2 to 3 weeks on the job.

    The teacher "did not have a valid Colorado teacher's license" and this is apparently not required in Denver at a charter school.
    Fired science teacher did not have state license. 9NEWS at 5 p.m. 10/08/14.
    Nelson Garcia, KUSA 6:13 p.m. MDT October 8, 2014
    Denver teacher charged in classroom explosion that injured 4 students
    By Elizabeth Hernandez
    The Denver Post
    Posted: 10/22/2014 01:31:50 PM MDT
    Fired Denver Schoolteacher Charged in Lab Fire
    DENVER — Oct 22, 2014, 4:42 PM ET
    Fired science teacher charged in classroom explosion. 9NEWS at 6 p.m. 10/22/14.
    Robert Garrison, KUSA 8:33 p.m. MDT October 22, 2014
    Daniel Powell teaches his science class at SMART Academy in Denver on August 27.
    (Photo: Carlos Rausseo) with Telemundo
    Fired science teacher did not have state license.
    9NEWS at 5 p.m. 10/08/14.
    Nelson Garcia, KUSA 6:13 p.m. MDT October 8, 2014
    Former Daniel Powell teacher charged over classroom explosion during methanol demonstration
    Phil Tenser
    POSTED 1:52 PM, Oct 22, 2014
    UPDATED 5:47 PM, Oct 22, 2014
    Denver teacher fired for injury-inducing experiment criminally charged
    POSTED 1:56 PM, OCTOBER 22, 2014, BY WILL C. HOLDEN, UPDATED AT 02:10PM, OCTOBER 22, 2014
    Fired Denver schoolteacher charged in lab fire
    By Associated Press October 22 at 4:45 PM
    Colorado Crimes
    Daniel Powell, Teacher, Charged With Assault for Gruesome Classroom Explosion
    By Michael Roberts Thu., Oct. 23 2014 at 9:50 AM
    Categories: Colorado Crimes, Education

    Call me JJ

  43. I've done a rainbow flame demonstration for years and never had problems. After doing some research, I will be rethinking that and maybe soak splints and have students burn them in Bunsen burners instead. Seems most of these stories involve the teachers pouring methanol from a stock container DIRECTLY onto an open flame. Once the demonstration starts, NEVER pour more into the containers. Even if the flame is completely out, the containers may still be hot enough to cause a flash fire on contact with the methanol. And the 4 L bottle should be in the flame cabinet in the prep room next door by the time the demonstration begins.

    I don't blame the teachers. Every chemistry teacher wants to make their class as fun and informative as possible, and with MSDA sheets putting warnings on literally EVERYTHING, it is tough to know what safety risks are appropriate. Lab safety in college teacher prep programs needs to be improved. Often times the person "in charge" of this section of the program isn't chemistry trained since often all science majors and lumped together. This needs to improve!

    Also, educational scientific providers could help by limiting the bottle size of any chemical that belongs in the flame cabinet. If schools had to pay a $1.00 more for methanol to arrive in 8 500 mL bottles instead of a hulking 4 L glass container, it would certainly help.

    1. I used to stick salts in a loop and stick them in the bunsen burner to demonstrate color, no MeOH needed.

  44. News stories below about a fire at Woodson High School in Fairfax Virginia today. Two students were critically injured and the teacher suffered minor injuries that did not require treatment. Few details so far but this could be consistent with rainbow flame. The teacher is usually not hurt because the methanol bottle is pointed away but toward students. At least two of the stories describe it as a "small fire". Somehow it's always a small fire when students get burned.

    "Five students and a teacher were injured Friday morning in a chemistry classroom fire at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County, school district officials said." from Washington Post