Friday, October 21, 2022

The Dinwiddie High School methanol incident | The safety messages aren't getting through

Following up on the fire incident at Dinwiddie High School, I listened to the press conference that featured local fire officials as well as the superintendent of the school. Here's a summary from the Richmond Times-Dispatch: 
The teacher was attempting a demonstration involving methyl alcohol, or methanol, according to Hale. The demonstration involved placing the methanol in an open beaker with water and igniting it using a smoldering wooden splint.

The instructor had successfully conducted the experiment once before, but during the second attempt, as the methanol was poured into the beaker it ignited, said Hale, causing a phenomena known as flame jetting.

Flame jetting happens when flammable liquid in a narrow-necked container mixes with trapped air vapor and they reach an ignition source. This caused a large amount of the methanol in the bottle to ignite. Flames shot around 10 feet across the front of the classroom, reaching a whiteboard and setting some paper and other flammable material ablaze.

I find it continually depressing that this story in 2022 is once again like many of the other incidents with: 

  • fire
  • methanol being added to the flames
  • from a bulk methanol container with
  • students being too close
What I find even more depressing is that the superintendent said (13:00 in the video): 

We do follow what the Virginia Department of Education provides for us, I believe the last one came out in 2019, safety and the labs, they go through an annual training, there's a checklist that the teacher is supposed to follow" 

I think I've found the document - it's here. There's very little about demonstration safety. Here's the 2000 version, and it honestly doesn't seem very different - maybe I'm wrong. 

What I find most depressing about all of this is that this isn't the only incident that Virginia has had - in 2015, W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, VA had an incident that hurt 5 students and 1 teacher. Maybe I'm wrong, but it appears to me that learnings from the Woodson incident didn't make it into the Virginia DOE material at all. At the least media is noticing - that's a start. 

My very best wishes to the hurt students and teacher at Dinwiddie High School, and I hope that this is the very last time that students are hurt by methanol fires in American schools. 

1 comment:

  1. Seems like there’s a lot of cya in here and not a lot of safety training and common sense. There are many great chemistry demonstration that don’t involve lighting things on fire or blowing stuff up. Maybe try that for a change?


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