A science experiment went awry at the Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum, creating a chemical flash that injured up to 13 Wednesday in Reno, officials said.
Of those 13, eight children and an adult were transported to Renown Regional Medical Center, the city said in a statement.
Primary injuries include minor burns and minor smoke inhalation, the statement said.
Four people were treated at the scene and released, Reno police officer Tim Broadway said earlier.
Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said it was a routine experiment involving the simulation of a tornado that is conducted daily at the museum, 490 S. Center St.
The officials said a methyl alcohol and boric acid mixture caught fire during a routine exhibition that is conducted each day to create a whirling tornado effect.
City of Reno spokesman Matthew Brown said that a preliminary investigation indicates it was not an explosion but a chemical flash, which is "similar to if someone threw gasoline on a fire."Here's a video showing the experiment by a demonstrator in Britain (using copper instead of boric acid):
When you look at the video that the parents were taking (it's about 30 seconds into the report), as well as the pictures from the parents, I think I have a theory as to what happened:
The Reno fire chief has an opinion on the matter, based on his conversations with museum staff:
Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum staff reacted quickly after an accident that injured up to 13 late Wednesday afternoon, Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said.
"According to our surveillance video within seconds they already had extinguishers out," Hernandez said. "They were well-trained and assisted our first responders."
About a dozen children were seated 6 feet to 10 feet away from an experiment done routinely at the museum to simulate a dust devil or tornado, Hernandez said. The experiment uses methyl alcohol and boric acid and the order got switched and it caused a flash that lasted two to four seconds.
"It's sort of a one, two, three process and they went one, three, two," Hernandez said. He described it as being like being too close to a campfire.
"There was very minimal damage within the immediate area of where the flash occurred," Hernandez said. "There was an easel immediate adjacent to the demonstration and it did not even get knocked over."
Given the smaller quantity of chemicals they used in the demonstration, there wasn't much of a chance of a more serious flash, the chief said. Nothing that would have blown out windows, for instance.
One child suffered second-degree burns and was going to be kept overnight at Renown Regional Medical Center for observation, Hernandez said. He visited all the children taken to the hospital Wednesday night and most seemed shaken by the incident.
The fire department will recommend the museum review its procedures.
"I think at the end of the of the day it's going to come down to a simple accident in procedure," Hernandez said. "As the fire chief, I'm not going to call them and say, 'Please stop doing this procedure.' The fact is, they've been doing this for quite some time. This is probably an isolated event."
Museum spokeswoman Meagan Noin said they had no new comment this morning.I'd like to know what the different order of operation was -- was the methanol added after the flame was already lit? Odd. I'm sort of weirded out by the fire chief's initial judgment, but hey, maybe he knows something I don't.
"We are still investigating what happened so we don't have any new information at this time," Noin said.
I am tempted to say: it's time for people to stop setting fire to methanol around kids for demonstrations. Matter of fact, I did say that on Twitter last night. After a night's sleep, I think that the right answer might be that people need to take many, many, many, many, many more precautions than were taken in Reno. What could have been done better?:
- Assuming that I'm correct that the methanol jug was part of the problem (and seeing as how it continues to be a problem with the rainbow flame demonstration), you can't have a larger source of methanol in the same vicinity as the lit demonstration.
Assuming I'm right about the tipping of the flame, the turntable needed secondary containment.Nope, see below.
- The kids needed to be much further away from the experiment.
UPDATE: This other video from ABC News shows the exact moment that the flash occurred, which seems to suggest that the instructor was adding methanol while another flame was lit?
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Well, that would explain it. Yeesh.