December 27, 2010

Leadership in Science: Teaching Safely and Teaching Safety

Attn:  Science educators, STEM advocates, health and safety, lab safety, security, IAQ, IPM, emergency and risk management professionals, first responders, school administrators, parents…

Do you know someone whose sense of responsibility, inspirational leadership, and exemplary persistence and courage protects children from school hazards and unhealthy school conditions?

By nominating a Hero you can help make March 18 an annual day that brings the Lessons of the 1937 Texas School Explosion to our nation's schools and celebrates the leadership that can save lives.

Send your hero's name, contact information, and your hero's story by February 15, 2011 to
The Healthy Kids Healthy Schools Hero Award was created as an annual opportunity to tell the story of New London Texas' preventable tragedy, to promote inspirational examples of leadership and partnerships, and to start conversations to identify and eliminate chemical hazards and unhealthy conditions in today's schools.   

Break the Silence.   
     The Heroes Award is part of an ongoing campaign to bring "safety" from the margins to the core of school curriculum and community culture.  
     The goal is to strengthen parent involvement and community partnerships to establish the 21st century standards and safeguards that can protect children from deadly explosions, fires, chemical spills and toxic exposures. 
This cenotaph, erected in 1939 is the memorial to victims of the explosion. The sculptural block of Texas granite depicts twelve life-size figures, representing children coming to school, bringing gifts and handing in homework to two teachers. Around the inside of the base are the individual names of those who died.  The Egyptians defined a cenotaph as a symbolic tomb, honoring the dead but not containing the body. It is a sepulchral monument erected to commemorate a person or persons buried elsewhere.
...let us suggest the legislature of Texas set aside a special day each year to be observed as a memorial day on which tribute will be paid to the children and teachers who died in this catastrophe...and to make laws of safety... Our daddies and mothers, as well as the teachers, want to know that when we leave our homes in the morning to go to school, that we will come out safe when our lessons are over.  Read more.

December 24, 2010

You Can Prevent Explosions in Your School

  • Update your fire safety knowledge.
  • Conduct a school safety walk-through. Find flammables and combustibles in labs and storerooms, shops, kitchens, art rooms, tech-voc classes.
  • Review your school's Chemical Hygiene Plans.  
  • Plan a program. Invite a fire fighter or other first responder to your school to discuss fire and chemical safety.
  • Map school escape routes and meeting places and post them in classrooms and hallways.
  • Conduct a fire drill.
Related Items:

December 04, 2010

A Guide to Prudent Chemical Management

Chemical Laboratory Safety and Security: A Guide to Prudent Chemical Management
Good safety and security procedures can lead to greater productivity, efficiency, savings, and most importantly, greater sophistication and cooperation. Improving safety and security is mistakenly seen as inhibitory, because of lack of understanding of safety and security procedures, cultural barriers, lack of skills, and financial constraints. 

Chemical Laboratory Safety and Security A Guide to Prudent Chemical Management and accompanying toolkit will assist chemists in developing countries to overcome the barriers they face and increase the level of safety and security in their labs through improved chemicals management and following the best laboratory practices possible.

Reference book
book coverReference book, Chemical Laboratory Safety and Security: A Guide to Prudent Chemical Management
Toolkit Items
Quick guide for laboratory managers (brochure format)
Quick guide for laboratory managers (page-by-page format)
Executive summary to share with institutional leaders (brochure format)
Executive summary to share with institutional leaders (page-by-page format)
Instructor’s guide, forms, and signs to photocopy and distributePreplanning reference cards to distribute to laboratory personnel
Helpful reminder signs for posting in the laboratory 

For more information contact

November 10, 2010

Gas problems in school kitchens

Explosion prompted kitchen alerts
BBC News
Problems with school kitchens in Derby first came to light after a small gas explosion which injured a member of staff, it has been revealed. ...

November 09, 2010

Massachusetts Gas Leaks - WHDH report
Devastating home explosions, caused gas leaks-so how many gas leaks are there right now? And could they be in your neighborhood? Our exclusive investigation found gas leaks all across the state-so many, experts say its out of control. Whats more shocking, gas companies know about them!

October 29, 2010

...another explosion occurred at an oil and gas production site in New London, Texas

CSB launches educational outreach initiative HazardEx
29 October 2010

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has announced that educational materials concerning oil site hazards that threaten the lives of teenagers have been distributed to more than 150 Mississippi school superintendents. The CSB is calling on schools across the state to incorporate the video and lessons into school curricula. 

The products include the CSB’s safety video, "No Place to Hang Out: The Danger of Oil Sites," and a lesson plan to be incorporated into school curricula across the state.

The project’s aim is to save the lives of teenagers in rural areas who often socialise at oil and gas production and storage sites and who are seemingly unaware of the explosion hazards.

“No Place to Hang Out,” was released at a news conference on April 13, 2010, in Hattiesburg, MS. The video tells the story of the tragic deaths of 18-year-old Wade White and 16-year-old Devon Byrd. The two boys were killed on October 31, 2009, when an oil tank located in a clearing in the woods near one of the boys’ homes in Carnes, MS, exploded.

CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso stated: "As the one-year anniversary of this tragic accident approaches, the CSB is committed to doing whatever we can to help schools across the state of Mississippi develop and implement an effective oil tank safety campaign. Our goal, which we are certain is shared by school superintendents, is to be able to reach as many young people as possible in order to save the lives of teenagers exposed to this hazard.”

CSB Investigator Vidisha Parasram said: “This video directly focuses on educating teenagers and young people. The CSB decided that a video aimed at this age group would be the best way to spread a strong safety message, especially if accompanied by a lesson plan and discussion.”

Following the accident in Mississippi the CSB found similar accidents have occurred at rural oil and gas sites in states across the country, killing and injuring children, teenagers, and young adults. The CSB found 26 similar accidents at such sites resulting in 44 fatalities among teenagers and young adults between 1983 and 2010. The Board found that since 2003 alone, oil and gas site explosions caused 16 deaths to members of the public, all of whom were under 25 years of age. As a result of these findings the CSB convened a task force to look into state and federal rules and regulations governing the safety and security of oil and gas production sites. The task force will release its final case study in early 2011.

Chairperson Moure-Eraso added: “If this educational campaign can help save the life of one teenager, it will be worth the effort.”

The CSB has called for improved safeguards at oil and gas sites across the country. Just one day after the April 13, 2010, CSB news conference in Hattiesburg, CSB investigators learned of a similar accident hundreds of miles away at a production site in Weleetka, Oklahoma. CSB investigators examined similarities with the accident that occurred in Carnes, MS. The team determined the accident in Oklahoma occurred when a group of teens and young adults gathered at an isolated unsecured, unfenced and unmanned oil and gas site. The youth who died in the blast possessed a cigarette lighter that likely ignited vapor from the tank, the CSB determined. Just 12 days later, another explosion occurred at an oil and gas production site in New London, Texas. Two 24-year-olds – a man and a woman – were gathering at yet another isolated unattended site when an explosion killed the woman and seriously injured the man.

In August CSB Chairperson Moure-Eraso called on Mississippi legislators and officials to increase safeguards at the oil sties during a meeting of stakeholders convened by State Senator Billy Hudson to discuss the possible introduction of a bill requiring public safety measures at oil and gas sites. In September of 2010 the Board of Supervisors of Forrest County, Mississippi, passed an ordinance requiring appropriate critical security measures, including fencing and signage, be placed around hazardous oil sites. The CSB strongly applauded this action.

The CSB’s task force continues to examine state regulations that that require specific safeguards at oil and gas sites. The task force has found that in some areas of California sites are required to have barbed-wire fencing around facilities where it is necessary to protect life and property. Similarly, Colorado and Ohio require fencing of oil and gas production sites in urban or populated areas.

The CSB task force has identified a lack of consistent state or municipal regulations for perimeter fencing, gates, locks, and warning signage. Such safeguards would deter public access to the sites and prevent the accidental ignition of vapor from storage tanks, the CSB has determined. The final report of the CSB’s task force will address this lack of regulation.

Also see: No Place to Hang Out

October 28, 2010

The Coliseum Explosion of Halloween, 1963

On Halloween night, 1963, during a "Holiday on Ice" skating exhibition at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum, a propane gas explosion killed 74 people and injured nearly 400.It was just after 11 p.m. and the skaters were finishing a medley called "Mardi Gras." No one realized that propane gas was leaking from a rusty tank in the concession area, slowly filling the unventilated room.

Read more

Photo Gallery

October 25, 2010

Concerns Raised Over Pipeline Near Indian Point

Blanch is worried that an explosion and fire sustained by large volumes of natural gas would destroy the systems that power and govern the reactor's cooling ...

... Blanch spent 20 years at Northeast Utilities, where he was a nuclear operations engineer. While there, he raised safety concerns about Connecticut's Millstone generating station. He was fired by the company, but after the NRC substantiated Blanch's concerns he was rehired and defended Millstone's safety procedures. He believes that the NRC does not enforce nuclear safety strictly enough, and he is especially concerned with the degradation of older reactors like the ones at Indian Point.

The type of petition filed by Blanch, called a 2.206 petition, can be filed by any concerned member of the public. As of the end of August, there were 11 such petitions under review by the NRC. The NRC is expected to decide within a month whether or not to investigate Blanch's claims.

Read More

October 05, 2010

Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind when You Know What's Right
By Mary C. Gentile
Publisher: Yale University Press ISBN-13: 978-0300161182

Review: By CSRwire Contributing Writer Elaine Cohen
...Truly embedding a culture of ethics which compels every individual to take personal responsibility and act ethically in every situation is what makes it all work. This book offers practical advice on how to "build the muscles" to speak and act, plan "voicing values," "craft scripts" and generally be prepared for a range of situations in which bold action is required. As the author says, "It is not about deciding what the right thing to do is, but rather about how to get it done."

For more information about this book, please visit
Sharing Values Out Loud: Finding Your Ethical Muscle

Why is that we do not seem to learn lessons from incidents?

PROCESS SAFETY MANAGEMENT INDIA: The Human and Process Safety by Karthikeyan.B
"The San Bruno natural gas explosion has underscored a growing concern about the capabilities of utility employees who watch over the nation's pipelines and whose errors have been linked to a number of mishaps, some of them catastrophic ...


October 04, 2010

Lessons still needed.
We tend to think of infrastructure as bridges and roads. Now in the 21st century we think of fiber optics. Rarely do we think of pipelines, and if we do we conjure up images of caribou keeping warm in winter near the Alaska pipeline. There is another pipeline story. This week the subject of pipeline safety was the focus of a hearing in the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation. In the busyness of the end of summer, few people paid attention to the pipeline accident on Sept. 9 in San Bruno, Calif....

The Pipeline Safety Trust has suggested some basics, and Congress can't seem to get it together to make sure that oversight of this kind of infrastructure takes place....

Read more.
Comment:   The investigation of the 1937 Texas School Explosion concluded that, even though officials ignored warnings and took short cuts they weren’t responsible because they were just "average individuals, ignorant or indifferent to the need for precautionary measures, where they cannot, in their lack of knowledge, visualize a danger or a hazard." (Court of Inquiry, 1937.)   -- Ellie Goldberg

September 27, 2010

Know your gas pipeline...

HIDDEN POWER | Gas pipeline safety issues resurface after California tragedy by Diane Dietz, The Register-Guard, appeared in print: Sunday, Sep 26, 2010

..."Most U.S. transmission lines are old. The average age of pipes in the national system — including those carrying gases and liquid gasoline — is 50 years, Weimer said. “But what matters more is how well the pipeline has been maintained, operated and inspected,” he said. 

“We’ve seen brand new pipelines that go to failure in just a few years because they weren’t maintained and operated well. In other places we’ve looked there’s 70-year-old pipelines and they’re still in good shape,” he said. 

Mike Haberkorn, who oversees the 66-year-old pipeline that serves Western Oregon from Vancouver to Grants Pass, said pipelines are basically ageless. “If they’re operated and maintained property, they virtually last forever,” he said.

September 25, 2010

...lack of a strong safety culture in the natural gas industry

“I believe there is a lack of a strong safety culture in the natural gas industry,” said Jim Hall, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1994 to 2001 and an experienced pipeline investigator. “When you have a lack of enforcement activity, you end up with a tragedy.”

Read  Gas Blasts Spur Questions on Oversight
NYTIMES September 24, 2010

September 21, 2010

Teaching Safely, Teaching Safety

Information and Tools

Laboratory Self-Audit: Setting Up Your Audit
Classrooms and laboratories practicing pollution prevention are safer for students and in most cases easier on the school budget besides being fairly easy to implement. However, changes in thinking must occur to make the initial effort a success. Lay the groundwork for change before using the Self-Audit Checklists included in this resource. Start with some basic grassroots organizing using these suggestions or some of the many community development resources available. The result will be a program that works for your school community.  Read more


September 20, 2010

Guidance and Tools for Schools

Safeguard Against Chemicals in Your School: EPA’s Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign (SC3)

From school maintenance closets to high school chemistry labs to vocational school classrooms, schools house a variety of chemicals. These chemicals can have many useful applications: they help keep school areas clean, demonstrate chemistry lessons and teach students new mechanical skills. But when these chemicals are mismanaged, they can put students and school staff at risk from spills, fires and other accidental exposures — incidents that may result in lost school days and require millions of dollars to mitigate.

The Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign (SC3) gives K-12 schools the guidance and tools they need to responsibly manage chemicals, thus reducing the risks and hazards posed by mismanagement. The goals of SC3 are to bring together administrators, teachers, maintenance staff...

September 14, 2010

Undetected: A deadly 1937 school explosion led to odorization requirements for combustible gas

Looking Back...  Undetected: A deadly 1937 school explosion led to odorization requirements for combustible gas, NFPA Journal®, September/October 2010

With few exceptions, the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations requires that "a combustible gas in a distribution line must contain a natural odorant or be odorized so that, at a concentration in air of one-fifth of the lower explosive limit, the gas is readily detectable by a person with a normal sense of smell."

Read more

Gas pipeline dangers

Pipeline explosion near San Francisco highlights dangers of gas infrastructure. An ominous theme has emerged from the wreckage of a deadly pipeline explosion in California: There are thousands of pipes just like it around the U.S. Associated Press

September 12, 2010

"Were there reports that there were odors escaping from the pipeline? If there were those reports, what actions took place in response to those complaints?"

6 people missing after California gas line explosion by the CNN Wire Staff

September 11, 2010

Myths and Misleading Statements About Oil and Natural Gas Pipelines

Myths and Misleading Statements About Oil and Natural Gas Pipelines
By Lois Epstein, P.E., Senior Engineer
Oil and Gas Industry Specialist
Cook Inlet Keeper
July 2004,
Pipeline Safety Trust

Blast shows dangers, scarcity of gas explosions

Blast shows dangers, scarcity of gas explosions
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- The natural-gas explosion that rocked a San Francisco suburb Thursday evening serves as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by the pressure cooker of pipelines crisscrossing the country.


September 03, 2010

Webinar: School Chemical Cleanout Sept 15

Webinar: Prevent Air Pollution at the Source: School Chemical Cleanout
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
1:00 PM - 2:30 PM EDT

Keep your school safe and free from hazardous chemicals. Chemical mismanagement can lead to dangerous exposures and risks - jeopardizing the safety of students and staff by polluting the air. Join experts from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign and Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Program, as well as the representatives from school  district's and private industry, as they explain effective methods to safely manage chemicals that are used in schools every day

August 31, 2010

Vitalsmarts: Silent Danger Resources

See if your organization is in a similar situation as the companies in these videos.

Workplace Safety Resources

News & Media

August 30, 2010

Sharing Values Out Loud: Finding Your Ethical Muscle

Voicing values in the workplace  Professor Mary Gentile explores ethical dilemmas at work and how to act on them.  In this video interview, Gentile shares insights and experiences on how to do that, which she’s gathered through her work developing the Giving Voice to Values curriculum and her eponymous book.1 McKinsey Publishing’s Lily Cunningham conducted the interview with Mary Gentile in New York in June 2010.

From McKinely Quarterly

August 28, 2010

Safety in the Undergraduate Classroom

A CHED/CHAS symposium on “Safety in the Undergraduate Classroom” is scheduled for the national American Chemical Society meeting in Anaheim in March 2011.    

The symposium description is:  “In 2008 the ACS Committee on Professional Training published the revised Guidelines for Bachelor’s Degree Programs which affirm that undergraduate chemistry programs must include safety education ‘as an integral part of the chemistry curriculum’ and that ‘throughout their studies students must experience safety procedures and processes.’  This symposium will include presentations of how different colleges and universities design and implement safety instruction in chemistry courses, both in individual courses and in curriculum-wide programs.  By sharing successful programs, we can all improve what we do on our home campuses and better educate our students for their future careers as safe scientists.”

Previous similar symposia at the ACS meeting in San Francisco (March 2010) and the BCCE (August 2010) offered many useful ideas about academic safety programs to attendees.

Interim queries may be directed to me.

David C. Finster
Professor of Chemistry
University Chemical Hygiene Officer
Department of Chemistry
Wittenberg University

August 23, 2010

Monona Rossol on The Toxic Chemicals Safety Act

Monona Rossol, chemist and industrial hygienist, talks about the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act currently before Congress and what changes it calls for. She'll also take calls and answer questions about the safetly of household chemicals.  

Also see "Two Bills for Safer Chemical Policies Introduced," Arts, Crafts and Teacher Safety Newsletter, ACTS FACTS, August 2010. 
Monona Rossol, Editor,,
Reprint policy:

(More Lopate radio interviews on this and related topics:

August 12, 2010

Jimmie Robinson, Survivor, interview on Pittsburgh radio KDKA Sept 4, 2010

On Saturday, September 4, 2010 at 7am EST David M. Brown, co-author of Gone at 3:17, will be on the Rob Pratte Show on Pittsburgh's KDKA Radio 1020AM ( interviewing (by phone) a New London explosion survivor, Jimmie Jordon Robinson.     

Jimmie Jordon was an 8-year-old third-grader attending classes at the grammar school adjacent to the Jr./Sr. high school.  She always went to meet her sister Elsie, 11, at the high school so they could go home together.  They were inseparable.  Jimmie was standing at the doorway to Elsie's classroom when the building exploded. 
This is one of the most heartwarming survival stories that took place in the midst of the worst school disaster in history, and Jimmie , now 81, retells it as if it happened yesterday.   
Gone at 3:17 (

David M. Brown
Michael Wereschagin (co-author)

August 06, 2010

Ceres is serious about safety

Investors Ask Oil, Insurance Groups to Disclose Safety Plans  August 5, 2010 By NATHANIAL GRONEWOLD of Greenwire

NEW YORK -- A coalition of mostly institutional investors is demanding oil and gas companies disclose their existing safeguards and plans of action in the event of another offshore rig disaster and possible oil spill like the one experienced by BP PLC and other companies in the Gulf of Mexico.

Led by Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit committed to promoting investor activism in environmental and social issues, more than 50 U.S. and global investors sent letters to major offshore oil and gas producers. The letters request, among other things, that companies disclose their investments in spill prevention technologies, their contingency plans in the event of a deepwater well blowout and their risk exposure to possible new regulations on deepwater drilling activities.

Insurance companies that back policies for the oil and gas industry also received letters from the group. Those letters ask insurers to disclose whether they are considering adjusting their relative exposure to the industry or are changing underwriting rules in the wake of the disaster.

Read more.

Accidents Haunt Experimental Science

June 28, 2010

Safety board weighs response to Conn., NC blasts

Safety board weighs response to Conn., NC blasts
"From a fire and explosion perspective, releasing large volumes of natural gas in the vicinity of workers or ignition sources is inherently unsafe," the chemical safety board wrote in recommendations scheduled for a vote Monday night at its hearing in Portland, Conn.


Jodi Thomas, whose husband, Ron Crabb, was killed in the Middletown explosion, said lessons from the explosion "could not be more apparent or urgent," and that it would be tragic if no changes were made to prevent it from happening again.

"This tragedy should never, ever have happened. It was preventable. This is why I urge you, please, do not allow Ron's death to be in vain," Thomas, of Colchester, was expected to say to members of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee.

Read more

April 11, 2010

No Place to Hang Out

Hattiesburg, Mississippi, April 13, 2010 – The video begins with the earnest voice of a teenager, reading her own words: “My name is Shawn-Ashlee Davis. I’m a senior at Forrest County Agricultural High School in Mississippi. And on October 31, 2009, two people who were very close to me, and the ones I loved, died in an instant. Was it a car crash? No. It was an oil tank explosion.” 
             Told through the eyes and voices of grieving and concerned parents, friends, and local officials, the newest CSB safety video, “No Place to Hang Out: The Danger of Oil Sites,” tells the story of the tragic deaths of 18-year-old Wade White and 16-year-old Devon Byrd, killed October 31, 2009, when an oil tank, located in a clearing in the woods near the home of one of the boys in the rural town of Carnes, suddenly exploded. 

April 24, 2010 
Former Gainesville resident injured in tank explosion
In a statement to KYTX, an East Texas television affiliate, ... The April 24 explosion also has many in New London talking about another tragic ... On March 18, 1937, a natural gas leak set off an explosion at a New London School taking ...

April 03, 2010

What is Responsible Chemical Management?

Responsible chemical management involves taking steps to ensure chemicals in schools do not endanger students and school personnel.
– Evaluating chemicals for need, quantity, and appropriateness;
– Properly labeling,storing,and securing chemicals; and
– Safely disposing of waste and/or excess chemicals.
from Healthy Schools School Chemical Cleanout Webinar -
Matthew Langenfeld USEPA Region 8 303-312-6284

March 12, 2010

Set aside a special day each year as a memorial....

...let us suggest the legislature of Texas set aside a special day each year to be observed as a memorial day on which tribute will be paid to the children and teachers who died in this catastrophe...and to make laws of safety... Our daddies and mothers, as well as the teachers, want to know that when we leave our homes in the morning to go to school, that we will come out safe when our lessons are over.
At the 2005 reunion of the New London School Explosion families, Carolyn Jones Frei reads the March 25, 1937 speech she gave as fifth grader Carolyn Jones to the Texas Legislature. She is standing in a corner of the London Museum being recorded by filmmaker Reva Goldberg. At her side is the machine that adds mercaptan, the warning smell to natural gas.
Complete Transcript

Mr. President, members of the house of representatives, and friends of school children, I’m here today as a representative of the London school and as a survivor of the school explosion that took the lives of nearly 500 pupils, teachers, and parents.

Last Thursday afternoon while my colleague and I were studying spelling for the interscholastic meet in which we were going to represent our school the next day, our teacher Mrs. Sory saw some pictures fall from the wall and several vases crash from the desk.

In an instant she had jerked open two nearby windows and said get out of here. We were clinging to her when we heard the first awful rumble that in a few seconds caused the room to collapse.

Mrs. Sory helped us out of the window and in another few seconds we were separated by the dark cloud of dust that blinded us.

When it got so I could see again I ran home as fast as I could. My teacher and friend were not killed, but I did not see them again.

My sister Helen Jones, an honor student and member of the high school champion debate team, was not so fortunate. She and my uncle, Paul Grier, a senior who planned to study medicine, were both taken from us in this awful explosion that killed so many of the future generation of East Texas.

When the announcement was made a few hours earlier by our principle that school would be dismissed for the county meet, the usual joy and excitement of a holiday prevailed. Little did we realize that we soon would be searching in the ruins of our beautiful school building for the bodies of our sisters and brothers and teachers.

First, as a representative of these school friends and teachers of mine, both living and dead, I am here today to express our appreciation for all that you and our governor have done for the relief of the suffering people of this community.

Second, let us suggest the legislature of Texas set aside a special day each year to be observed as a memorial day on which tribute will be paid to the children and teachers who died in this catastrophe.

We want to thank you for the memorial fund to which many of you have already contributed and which people all over the world are sending donations. We believe if those students and teachers who died would speak they would want a living memorial instead of a stately building.

By all means, we should have an appropriate but simple structure on which will appear the names of each pupil, teacher, and parent who died. With the remaining portion of money, our teachers suggest an endowment fund, to be used for the future education for the surviving children so that each might be assured of a college education if they so desired.

In conclusion, let me urge you, our lawmaking body, to make laws of safety, so it will not be possible for another explosion of this type to occur in the history of Texas schools.

Our daddies and mothers, as well as the teachers, want to know that when we leave our homes in the morning to go to school, that we will come out safe when our lessons are over.

Out of this explosion, we have learned of a new hazard that hovers about some of our school buildings. If this hazard can be forever blotted out of existence then we will not have completely lost our loved ones in vain.

We need say nothing more on the point of safety legislation because we as children of London school know that our faith in our government will not be betrayed. We will have safe school buildings in the future.

All of us who were spared will try to show our appreciation by striving to become the finest of citizens to carry on the work of this wonderful land of yours and mine.

This is our plea, thank you.

... As a result of the New London tragedy, the 45th Legislature enacted House Bill 1017 which amended Article 6053, Texas Revised Civil Statutes, 1925, giving the Railroad Commission the authority to adopt rules and regulations pertaining to the odorization of natural gas or liquefied petroleum gases. On July 27, 1937, Gas Utilities Docket 122 was adopted and the Commission began enforcement of odorization requirements for natural gas. 

March 11, 2010

COLD MORNING, 1937 and Memory Book


The night of the disaster, no one slept.
Sirens ripped the darkness with doom.
Dogs howled back. After the bodies
were found, we tried sleep,
stared at the ceiling, fixed by memories
we could never escape or soon describe.

Exhaustion loosened our grip on consciousness,
we slipped into a dark pool, lay floating
face down below the surface, until
the gray pool merged with gray dawn.

We rose, forcing our leaden feet
to the terrible task: caskets, the unctuous
minister, the exhausted emergency worker.

In a garage beside the mortuary,
makeshift tables held the remnants of lives,
shrouded in bloody sheets.

Rituals were omitted.  No neighbors stood
in doorways bearing plates of cake.
Those not bereaved avoided our eyes,
terrible as gorgons.

Yesterday's March morning warmed
to the trills of mockingbirds. Gulf breezes
rushing inland tossed new bluebonnets.
Today is a cottonmouth under a cold stone.

-- Carolyn Jones Frei


One muggy afternoon the students sat
for their last school pictures.  In the air
from the photographer's fan
the children's hair blows to the left.

When I open the Memory Book,
dead schoolmates assume weight,
dimension.  The faculty comes first
in death, knowing, dignified,
The school secretary wears a secret
smile, planning the wedding
that never came. Seniors parade
in caps and gowns, diplomas
never signed.  On the yellowing
pages for primary school, wisps
of hair slip from clips and ribbons,
bangs hang unevenly.

The names are regional: Iva Jo,
Sybil, Glendell, Lataine. Boys in
their fathers ties never inherited
their names. From freckled faces
clear eyes gaze, searching fate
in the camera's lens, composing
historic ovals memorized
by grieving parents.

Billy wears his skullcap, chin up,
feisty as always. Tall Ollie is shy.
The twins are separate on the page,
though never in life or death. The best
dressed girl wears her best dress.

They know the final mystery.
But we who survive memorialize
the pain, the loss of trust, another
slaughter of the innocents.

-- Carolyn Jones Frei

March 07, 2010

Vignette # 1 –Toxic Inhalation Hazard & Corrosive Chlorine Gas – Risk Factor 4
The lecture bottle (small gas cylinder) in the left photo was found in a high school corrosive storage cabinet.  The cylinder was unlabeled and none of the current teachers knew what it contained.  The corrosive vapors from a leaking bottle of sulfuric acid had seriously damaged the valve.  The teacher said she had considered cracking the valve and bleeding out a little gas to see if she could determine what it was by the smell but had thought better of it.  Fortunately, a former chemistry teacher was substitute teaching that day in a nearby room. When asked about the cylinder, he said, “Oh yeah, I know what that is.  It’s just chlorine.”

The lecture bottles on the right were from another school.  The red cylinder has the word “Chlorine” hand written on it in grease pencil.  None of the teachers knew these cylinders were stored in a box in a hidden shelf in the chemistry storage room.  In both cases, no one had the faintest idea of how to dispose of them, nor were they aware of the need to get them off their property as soon as possible.

In both cases, once I explained that there was sufficient pure chlorine gas in a full lecture bottle to be immediately life threatening to 100,000 people if distributed evenly, the schools were immediately in agreement that those gas cylinders needed to be removed and properly disposed as fast as possible.

What lessons can we pull from these two stories of unneeded toxic gases?
  • With no specific information on the hazards posed by chemicals, there is little motivation to dispose of them as long as they aren’t interfering in the daily routine.
  • When people gain perspective on the risks their chemicals pose to themselves and the students at their school, they are more willing to dispose of unneeded hazardous compounds.
  • When the photograph of the chlorine cylinder on the left was shown to the manager of our hazardous waste inspection program, our agency immediately determined these old school chemicals were a priority issue for us to tackle.  This led to a shift in funding to allow our program to help offset school cleanouts and the assignment of some of our field inspectors to tackle this problem.
Vignette #2: Toxic & Oxidizing Lead Nitrate – Risk Factor 3

A middle school in Washington State had over 500 containers of lab chemicals, including 13 pounds of lead nitrate, in their science stockroom.  Lead nitrate is a poisonous oxidizer that is often used in dilute solutions and reacted with other chemicals to create colorful precipitates.

I asked the teacher if he used the lead nitrate.  

“Oh yeah, don’t get rid of that stuff, I need it.” 

“How much do you use?,” I asked.  

“Well, let’s see, I use one gram each quarter in the double displacement lab, and another gram a year in the flame test.”  

“OK,” I said, “then that’s about five grams a year, right?”  

“Yeah, that sounds right.”  

“Well then, with 454 grams in a pound, that means it’ll take you 90 years to use up one pound.  And with 13 pounds in stock, you’ve got about a 1,200 year supply on hand.  How long are you planning on teaching?”  

He laughed and agreed that he could probably get rid of some.  By the end of the discussion, he kept the newest container and set aside the other 12 pounds for disposal as hazardous waste.  

And, most importantly, he was then willing to dispose of another 150 pounds of hazardous chemicals that were on his shelves without feeling threatened that I was there to get rid of his needed chemicals.

What lessons can we pull from this typical story of too many bottles in storage?
  • They may need the chemical, but it doesn’t mean they need all they have.
  • A skilled inspector, asking probing questions in a non threatening way, can help a science teacher look at their chemicals in a new way.
  • When people gain perspective on the risks their chemicals pose to themselves and the students at their school, they are more willing to dispose of unneeded hazardous compounds.
  • The lab experiments that use this chemical are typically only taught in high-school-level chemistry classes.
Vignette #3: Corrosive Hydrofluoric Acid – Risk Factor 4

While dissolving minerals in a geology process laboratory, a technician spilled less than half a pint of  hydrofluoric acid (HF) onto his lap, splashing both thighs. The only protective equipment worn were chemical-resistant gloves.
He received chemical burns to nine percent of his body despite washing his legs with water from a hose at 1.5 gallons per minute. His contaminated clothing was not removed during the flushing process. Following flushing, the technician immersed himself in a chlorinated swimming pool for 40 minutes before an ambulance arrived. He became unconscious soon after arriving at a nearby hospital and his condition continued to deteriorate despite their best efforts.  His right leg was amputated seven days after the exposure and he died eight days later.

Investigators said he should have been wearing full length PVC coveralls with sleeves to the wrist, a face shield, rubber boots, safety goggles and mid-arm length PVC gloves while working with HF in a fume hood.  Calcium gluconate gel should have been nearby for immediate application on any exposed skin surface before the acid could penetrate the skin.

From this report  you can see why hydrofluoric acid (HF) is considered dangerous; it’s very toxic and readily passes into the bloodstream through exposed skin, a potent combination of risk factors. The fluorine ion in HF preferentially binds with calcium. Spilled HF acts as an anesthetic as it passes through the skin into the bloodstream where it quickly begins to dissolve bones and cause systemic poisoning. This is why HF is considered the highest risk acid in schools. Other acids may be corrosive but they do not contain this additional secondary effect that increases their risk.

As you may have guessed, no secondary school in the United States has safety gear or spill supplies available that resemble the recommended personal protective equipment described in the anecdote.

Both art classes and science classes can include classroom activities that use HF.  Though most science teachers are willing to eliminate their collection of old HF containers, that’s often  not the case with art teachers.  Why would an art teacher argue to keep their HF paste?  Because it has been used by artists for years in stained glass and other glass-etching techniques.

HF dissolves glass on contact, releasing harmful fumes, as described by Arthur Duthie in 1908 in Decorative Glass Processes. "The fumes escape from full strength acid so profusely as to be quite visible like a yellow smoke, and are not only obnoxious, but dangerous. Even at moderate working strength they will cause bleeding of the throat and nostrils in persons in whom these organs happen to be weak, while they commonly cause severe smarting of the eyes..."

Vignette # 4: Pyrophoric White and Yellow Phosphorus – Risk Factor 4

White phosphorus is pyrophoric, as is yellow phosphorus, which means they spontaneously ignite in contact with air.  Pure phosphorus is highly toxic and should be stored under water.

The Canning Jar on the left has a large amount of white phosphorus which, over time, has reacted make the water acidic and corroded the container’s lid.  This has allowed water evaporate over time and lower the water level to a quarter-inch above the top of the phosphorus sticks.  If the water layer lowered even slightly, the risk of spontaneous combustion are very high.

The teacher said he needed to keep it, because he used it in a lab.  Turned out that all he did was cut off  a piece, take it outside and drop it on the pavement where it released poisonous smoke and burned a hole in the asphalt.  Unlike him, I was unconvinced that this was “good science.”

Why would a middle school science teacher have this much white phosphorus, and why would he try to convince me that he needed to keep it?  

Upon reflection, I think there were three reasons:

  • Teenagers have poor attention spans, so having something spontaneously ignite looks “cool” and may get them to pay attention to what’s going on, if only for a minute or two.
  • The teacher didn’t notice that the water level had dropped and didn’t think about the consequences of the container’s contents spontaneously igniting on top of the wooden shelf in his stockroom filled with chemicals.
  • The teacher had been around for a long time and had become fond of his more esoteric chemicals and didn’t want to see them go.  Like me, he liked the chance to tell some “chemical war stories” and phosphorus is much more lively a focus than baking soda.
Vignette #5: Water Reactive & Peroxidizable Elemental Potassium – Risk Factor 4

Potassium metal is highly water-reactive.  Though not commonly found in schools, science teachers use it to demonstrate the properties of the alkali metals.  First a piece of lithium is dropped in water and fizzes.  Then a piece of sodium metal is dropped on the water, where it turns into a molten ball that dances across the surface, fizzing loudly.  When potassium is dropped added, it zings around the surface of the water with purple flames shooting into the air above it.

Potassium is sold as silver-gray sticks of soft metal under kerosene or mineral oil to keep moisture away.  It reacts with the air; first to form white potassium hydroxide crystals.  After time has passed, the reaction continues and forms potentially explosive peroxide crystals.  Peroxidized potassium, seen above in the photo on the right, is characterized by orange, red or purple crystals.

Peroxidized potassium was found in the same middle school stockroom as the white phosphorus shown earlier.  The teacher was unconvinced when I said the container must be disposed, saying “I can use it, I’ll just scrape off the orange stuff.”  I pointed out that the act of scraping could start a chain reaction that would cause the entire chunk to detonate.  He still persisted in saying he needed it.  Finally I said “Look, if you do that, it could blow your hands off.”  As if snapping out of a hypnotic state, he looked up and went “Oh!, Well then. Maybe I can just use the newer jar over here instead.”  After three days of treatment and $6,000 in fees, the stabilized material was disposed as hazardous waste.