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  1. #1
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    Default HighSchool/College ChemLab Explosion

    Only a week before I start my FF training and I still work at a highschool in KY. We have some pretty dumb teachers here who like to have "fun" with chemicals. One of them took a small piece of cesium and dropped it into a bottle to show them the reactive nature of the element. The idiot didn't think about how much pressure the thing would create and blew up the 5 gallon bottle in front of the whole class. Pieces went everywhere, luckly not injuring anyone. My point is that there are alot of chemicals still in HS and college labs that are supposed to not be there. The college I attended had plutonium in the basement from some experiment in the 70's. All the protection they have for it is a 55gallon drum filled with sand and a gieger counter sittin on top ticking away. My highschool had an entire block of potassium and soduim "hidden" under a box so OSHA people wouldn't find it. Of course none of this stuff is on any of the hazmat sheets yet they have 5 diff pages for whiteout!
    What is the deal? Since I worked at this HS for a while the capt. is excited to have someone who knows the building really well. I hate to think if I had to go into the lab area in a fire just because I knew where it was.
    I am sure there are many of you out there who have similar experiences/complaints. Let 'er rip gentleman.

    PD


  2. #2
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    Let's not forget the auto machine shops!!!!!!! Just think of the flammable and combustible liquids stored improperly in there!!!!

  3. #3
    Senior Member Temptaker's Avatar
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    The thinners and paints used in art classes aren't generally stored properly either... and what about the other chemicals in the woodshop? There is always the location of the shop classes to consider to, in my high school, the chem and bio labs were at one end, while all the shop classes and art studio were at the other.

    Hmmm....note to self: school = HAZMAT nightmare
    Last edited by Temptaker; 05-10-2002 at 03:52 PM.

  4. #4
    MembersZone Subscriber CFD Hazards's Avatar
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    Default Tragic incident

    The next city south of me had a tragic fire in the 1970's at the local community college. A fire broke out in the chemical lab at what was then known as RI Junior College, now the Community College of RI. I don't know all of the facts about the fire but I am told that all of the members of the first alarm companies are now deceased. All died as a result of the effects of that fire. The ability to gather information about chemicals and their reactivities weren't available at the time.
    Thakfully today, with the awareness of Haz-Mats and the ability to find out about all of the chemicals at a particular location, we can, with the click of a mouse, gather enough information to formulate a plan of attack and prevent incidents like this from happening.
    As an aside, the police station in the city I live and work in was evacuated yesterday because of noxious fumes. The source of the fumes is not known but it is believed that two different cleaning chemicals were accidently mixed. It wasn't Ammonia and Bleach either. The manufacturers of the chemicals were contacted and responders were told by the chemists of these companies, that they had no idea what would the mixture of these two chemicals would produce but it would probably be "really bad." Thanks for nothing!

  5. #5
    Senior Member Temptaker's Avatar
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    The manufacturers of the chemicals were contacted and responders were told by the chemists of these companies, that they had no idea what would the mixture of these two chemicals would produce but it would probably be "really bad." Thanks for nothing!
    Really bad... now there is an informative term. These guys are chemists, and they don't have a clue what it would create, nice. They should put a disclaimer on the bottle saying:

    If you mix chem A with chem B, we don't have any idea of what it will create. But it will be REALLY BAD.

    Actually I emailed the EPA once with a question regarding some common household chemicals, and the possible reactions under fire conditions, as a lot of people store household chemicals in the same general area. I wanted to know what would happen if the containers ruptured and the chemicals mixed prior to actual ignition. I was told that it wasn't within their scope of practice because it wasn't an environmental or public safety problem. Hmmm.... house on fire, not a public safety problem?!?!

  6. #6
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    One of the big problems is that there is almost never any consideration given to the reactivity of chemicals when they are stored on the shelves. One college lab I looked at had the chemicals stored in alphabetical order! Really bad.

    How about security? Why should little Johnny, who just downloaded his copy of the Jolly Roger Cookbook, try to order the chemicals he needs to make a bomb? He can just go into the Chem storeroom when the teacher is at lunch and steal what he needs.

  7. #7
    Forum Member RyanEMVFD's Avatar
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    speaking from experience on this one, back in high school we had a substitue (sp) teacher one day in chemistry. couple of kids decided to mix chemicals. so they got into the chemical room (the teacher just sat at her desk) and mixed as many chemicals together that they could find. end result was some brown chemical with a lighter brown foam top. bored then they just poured it down the drain. granted this was now a decade ago, hopefully the chemicals are stored better and behind a locked door.

    also another thing to consider is the shelf live of some chemicals, some break down and become something worse. for example i believe petric acid (i think that's the name) turns into a crystal substance and the slightest vibration will make it explode. hopefully a chemical expert will come in here and save me from going any further.

    all i know is kids getted bored in chem class and will experiment on their own. they have the gas hookups for bunson burners and the like so these can be very dangerous fires that we face.
    NREMT-P\ Reserve Volunteer Firefighter\Reserve Police Officer
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    Experts built the Titanic, amateurs built the Ark.

  8. #8
    Forum Member MetalMedic's Avatar
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    Ryan hit on the most frequent problem we have seen around here. We had a High School and Middle School Science lab in my previous department's town that had discovered several old bottles of chemicals that had crystalized. We had to call in a bomb unit from a nearby major city who removed the containers in their portable bunker. The police escorted it through town with the FD and EMS trailing on the way to the disposal site. The materials were detonated in an open field with a considerable shock wave felt over 100 years away from it. Who knows what this could have done had they blown up inside a building.

    Taught me a lesson and the last time I was involved with a school inspection, we picked the chemical storage rooms and labs apart. We found some aging checmicals which we fortunately got disposed before they reached an unstable stage. Been a few years since I was on that inspection tour, so I hope the other inspectors kept on top of these.
    Richard Nester
    Orrville (OH) Fire Dept.

    "People don't care what you know... until they know that you care." - Scott Bolleter

  9. #9
    Forum Member Lewiston2FF's Avatar
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    George,
    Picric Acid is some nasty stuff, although, it isnt nearly as sensitive as some people believe. The chemistry professor at my college decided to clean out the stock room, which was locked. And happened upon a bottle of dried picric acid. He shook it to see if it had dried out, which it had. He is still here, and the building is still standing.

    Common ether will do the same thing if left in a container sealed with a metal cap. If I remember correctly.
    Shawn M. Cecula
    Firefighter
    IACOJ Division of Fire and EMS

  10. #10
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    So will benzoyl peroxide. I've seen all three remote detonated after they were removed from a school lab storage room.

    It's a wonder there aren't more fires and explosions like that.

  11. #11
    Forum Member HF&R_H28's Avatar
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    My school is like fort knox. the chemicals are locked up, with all the classrooms having a door leading into a "lab area", which is really just a teachers area. in there are 2 fire extinguishers. the chemicals are locked up, and anybody in there without a teacher can get 3 days ISS or even arrested for trespassing. in auto tech, we have everything in a block storage room, and it stays locked, and we have everything osha approved and so on. the only place i am worried about having a fire is in metals tech, and construction tech (woodworking. i believe a year or two ago there was a fire in construction. so i believe that we are pretty well off.

  12. #12
    Disillusioned Subscriber Steamer's Avatar
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    The chemistry professor at my college decided to clean out the stock room, which was locked. And happened upon a bottle of dried picric acid. He shook it to see if it had dried out, which it had. He is still here, and the building is still standing.
    I watched a college chemistry professor taste a liquid one time to see if it was formic acid once, too, but I don't think I would necessarily assume that is considered a safe and accepted practice. Some of the most dangerous people I've worked with in hazardous materials should have been the safest. BTW, you're right about the ether.

    Picric acid was actually used by the Japanese in WWII in place of their rapidly depleting supplies of fulminate of mercury. This was for the detonators used in various explosive ordinance. They also reportedly tried to seed the American west coast with toys "treated" with picric acid crystals in the joints of dolls and such via paper balloons. The theory was a child picks them up, moves an arm, and blows off a hand or several fingers. The extremists felt that the war would go on into the next generation of warriors, and they were trying to limit that generations ability (over time) to contribute to the war effort.
    Steve Gallagher
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  13. #13
    Senior Member kfd232's Avatar
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    Originally posted by MetalMedic
    The materials were detonated in an open field with a considerable shock wave felt over 100 years away from it.

    Hehe!! What year did this happen in I think I am feeling it right now!

    sorry, I must be in a stupid mood tonight. That just struck me as really funny.

    seriously,
    Good points everyone.
    I am one of those chemical nerds from highschool. We blew up more things than a squadron of b-52's!! Sodium, potassium, and many many more. It's been a few years, but I recall making a pressure sensitive explosive powder. Can't think of the name, anyway... we used very small quantities and put it on small sheets of paper. For the class project we each took turns tapping the powder and getting a good little blast. A buddy of mine had been tapping quite a bit with his pen, and after it was all done we went in to the lecture room for a test. As the test progressed, I could hear him tapping his pen against the side of his head to help the thought proccess ... BOOM!
    He had a small cut, and couldn't hear anything for 45 minutes. Apparantly he had gotten a buildup of residue on the pen, and had hit it on his head. Oh boy was that funnny.

    I have found that firefighters and haz-mat techs are the most creative individuals when it comes to creating something that will burn bright, blow up, make noise, or create a stench! Some of the best reactions I have learned were in haz-mat classes


    be safe out there, I'm still around!


    Scott Reasor
    Last edited by kfd232; 05-10-2002 at 11:08 PM.
    Be safe brothers

  14. #14
    Senior Member firecat1524's Avatar
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    Default Haz-Mat experts?

    A few years back there was a haz-mat incident at rollover at an intertstae interchange here in SC. Of course the news media was there in all their glory. The main part of the footage was talking about how they had isolated the scene until the haz-mat experts from the SC Dept of Health and Enviromental Control showed up to mitigate the threat, and the footage shown was of a DHEC employee in scba and street clothes approaching the truck with a haz-mat meter. As if that weren't bad enough...one of the tv stations here used portions of that footage in promotional ads for a year or so afterwards.

  15. #15
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    It's a good thing you guys don't live in my town! or
    you would really hate my employers, heehee! We got it all!
    your flammable liquids, your corrosives, your water reactives,
    toxics/poisons,things that are shock sensitive, things that polymerize,pyrophorics, etc.....Stored in everything from 2 oz bottles to 10,000 gal storage tanks! We do have a good working/training relationship with our local (public/paid) firefighters, teach them all about the chemistry of what they might have to face out in the world, and if they are ever called to assist us! Having some knowledge of chemistry helps out! Especially when your standing there with that MSDS in your hand scratching your head!

  16. #16
    MembersZone Subscriber Diane E's Avatar
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    Exclamation

    Watch out for chlorine, as well. The local elem. school and neighboring town's high school and University have swimming pools...........

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    Probably not as severe a hazard, but the biology labs can be freaky places too. They have gas lines too, plus the usual formaldehyde. And in my high school, both labs occupied the same footprint in the building (bio first floor, chem right above it on the second).

  18. #18
    Senior Member Temptaker's Avatar
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    At a college near to where I live they have the same set up, except Bio is second floor and Chem is first. The thing about Bio labs is they have all those nice scalpels, and forcepts and the like for disection. If it were a pathophysiology lab, or a facitlity where they teach lab research, there is no telling what might be in there. Most of the stuff under slides is long dead, but they get viral and bacterial donations all the time, for class use. If there was an explosion on the floor below, the projectiles alone in one of these labs would be scary never mind the biohazard factor.

  19. #19
    MembersZone Subscriber Diane E's Avatar
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    Default Chem and Bio labs

    I had heard that at Bayer Pharmaceuticals in West Haven CT, the FF's are told to stay off a certain floor in the event there's an incident -- the floor where the animals are. Never confirmed it, but it still creeps me out when I drive down I-95 near in West Haven!!!

  20. #20
    Senior Member Temptaker's Avatar
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    Diane

    It wouldn't suprise me if FF were told to stay away of entire sections of companies like Bayer. The reason being during the research they inject animals with the viruses or diseases they are trying to find a treatment or cure for. Most things under fire conditions would be killed by the heat alone. If it were an air born virus, or something easily transmitible through contact and a FF was doing a search they could end up contracting it.

    Another place that would be extremely bad, and immediately designated HAZMAT would be the CDC, or anywhere that houses a level 5 MAC lab. The stuff they keep in there is truly scary. As far as I know, all MAC labs are required to have extreme internal fire suppression measures. Like three back up systems, but that is because they don't want ANYONE not properly suited to go in to them, simply because of the potential outbreak risk.

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