Statement from CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso on High School Laboratory Fire in New York City

January 3, 2014:  I was distressed to learn once again of a serious high school laboratory accident, this one occurring yesterday at a New York City High School. According to media reports, a flash fire occurred during a demonstration in the high school's laboratory resulting in injuries to two 10th grade students, one severely.

This accident is all too similar to the one we highlighted in a recent video safety message released by the CSB that specifically focused on potential dangers in high school chemistry laboratories.  The CSB's safety message entitled "After the Rainbow," features accident survivor Calais Weber in her own words describing how at age 15 she was burned over 40 per cent of her body during a chemistry demonstration performed by her teacher at a prestigious boarding school she attended in Ohio.  That accident occurred on January 23, 2006.  Our chemical investigation screening process regrettably regularly reports similar accidents.

Though information at this stage is very preliminary, media reports indicate the accident that occurred yesterday in Manhattan may have been similar to the type of demonstration that critically injured Ms. Weber in that it attempted to show how chemicals react in different ways giving off different colors. . The demonstration in the CSB video showed the use of  highly flammable methanol to depict how various mineral salts produce different color flames when burned.

The CSB believes that accidents in high school laboratories occur with alarming frequency. Yesterday's incident is yet another example of a preventable incident and a reminder of the need for exacting safety measures to protect students and school property.   As Calais states in the safety message, her accident should never have occurred, and that with better attention to good safety practices, similar accidents can also be avoided. She says, "It feels with this type of injury that you've had so much taken away from you unnecessarily and to keep reading about other people who have had very similar experiences, it's tragic and shouldn't happen."

End Statement

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.


Chemical Safety Board Video
Source: U.S. Chemical Safety Board