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Flammable Solvents Injure Students in American High Schools

November 17, 2020

USA- writes that experiments in high school chemistry classrooms can turn hazardous in an instant.*

Flammable solvents can create a flamethrower-style reaction known as flame jetting. Reports found that these experiments went wrong leading to more than 160 cases of severe burns on students across the country over the years, and possibly more. There is no formal requirement to report such accidents meaning that the true numbers could be far higher. 

These incidents take place when a flammable liquid is placed inside of the container, and exposure to a flame creates what is described as a wall of fire that projects out of the container with a great deal of force. Anyone and anything in the path of those flames can catch fire, leading to some severe instances where students suffered critical injuries and classrooms were destroyed. Methanol appears to be particularly dangerous when used in these experiments.

In one example, which took place at a high school in Virginia, a so-called “rainbow experiment” led to an incident of flame jetting. Two students in the class had to be airlifted because of severe burns resulting from the accident, while five students in total suffered burn-related injuries. One witness stated that the flames looked like a blanket or a fireball. Another incident occurred in Ohio that burnt 40 percent of one student's body. 

In Georgia, Ohio, Florida, and New York, students injured in similar experiments have recovered millions of dollars in damages. Safety advocates have been pushing to ban the use of flammable solvents and open flames in experiments in American classrooms. Some other efforts include methods of preventing experiments from becoming dangerous. The American Chemical Society has videos for teachers that show safe ways to conduct the rainbow experiment without putting teachers and students in harm's way. 

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All information provided by our blogs is general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Consult a Montlick attorney for details about your unique situation.