Friday, April 18, 2014

Lawsuit stemming from November 2013 rainbow flame incident

Via DNAinfo Chicago, news of a lawsuit:
LINCOLN PARK — The mother of a student who was burned in a chemistry lab fire at Lincoln Park High School is suing the school, Chicago Public Schools and the teacher involved.
Jennifer Dryden, the mother of student Tatiana Schwirblat, filed the lawsuit last week arguing the chemistry teacher, Joy Walter, and other defendants were negligent. The chemistry lab fire broke out just before noon Nov. 25 and injured a total of five students, authorities said at the time. Tatiana, 16, suffered second-degree burns, including burns on her face, authorities said. 
The lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court claims Walter was demonstrating an experiment involving the ignition of elements when the fire erupted. Walter was igniting the element cobalt in a Petri dish with a match and poured an "unmeasured" amount of methanol over the cobalt and match, which sparked an explosion, according to the lawsuit. Tatiana's clothes caught fire, causing burns on her body and face, according to the suit. 
The lawsuit claims Walter failed to take steps to protect students from injury, including putting up a shield around the Petri dish to prevent injury in case of an explosion. It also claims she failed to measure out the methanol before using it as an accelerant in a chemical experiment.
Another student who witnessed the experiment said watching her classmate's sweater catch fire was the "scariest thing ever." The witness said the flames quickly spread to another lab table and ignited the girl's sweater.
Here's a Courthouse News summary

I did not notice in either December 2013 or January of this year that this accident had just happened in November 2013. (That's perhaps because initial reports of the accident focused on the methanol fire, and not that they were performing the 'rainbow flame' experiment.)

It still seems evident to me that the 'rainbow flame' experiment should not be performed as advertised (as found here, for example) and that the wood splint method is much safer. It's evident to the American Chemical Society, anyway. If more lawsuits pop up, it'll start becoming evident to school boards and insurance companies. 


  1. The Aqueous LayerApril 18, 2014 at 4:40 PM

    Although cool, experiments that have fire or explosions should probably be witnessed through YouTube or other video means.

  2. Aqueous layer: Seems only fair. Might not want your diaper to catch fire.

    1. This is another version of chemophobia, however instead of being by the general public is by someone who likely is a chemist, as as such is even more toxic.

    2. I thought the word chemophobia was usually applied to irrational fears of anything related to the subject of chemistry or synthesized chemicals. The fear that experiments with fires or explosions can't be done safely in most high schools that have neither essential laboratory equipment nor personal with the extensive training of research chemists doesn't seem particularly irrational to me.

  3. The entire issue with rainbow flame was not that it was unsafe, but that a few teachers were retards and decided to pour more flammable solvent on an already-on-fire demo. Calling the demo unsafe as a result of this action is as silly as saying it is unsafe to have methanol around because someone might decide to light it on fire. If it takes 'extensive training of research chemists' not to pour something flammable on something on fire, I worry not only about the state of chemistry education, but of society itself.

  4. Here's our report of the original incident, with a suggestion for an alternative spectacular flame colour demonstration:

    1. Instead of solids on bunsen burner... using water solution of the minerals dissolved ans psraying over the flame could also be use dinstead


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