A science experiment meant to show a rainbow of flame colors to preschoolers at the Yellow School in Houston went awry last week injuring 12 children, six of whom were hospitalized. The children sustained burns when chemicals used in the experiment landed on them after an explosion.

At 12:30 p.m. on May 16, the group of children gathered outside the school, located at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, in the 240 block of Blalock Drive, to watch the experiment where flames display a rainbow of colors. The experiment was meant to encourage an interest in science, but instead created terror.

Officials said the teacher mixed boric acid and methanol and tried to set it on fire. When it didn’t ignite, more ethanol was added and an explosion occurred showering chemicals on the group of small children who were not wearing protective gear. Six of them were taken to the burn unit at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. The other six were picked up at the school by their parents and taken elsewhere for care.

This is not the first time this experiment has had tragic consequences. An incident in 2006 injured teenagers in a chemistry class who were told they did not need to wear protective gear. A few minutes into the experiment, one of the flames faltered and, just as the teacher at the Yellow School did, the chemistry teacher added more methanol and an explosion occurred.

One of the students injured tells her story in the video below. She sustained burns to 40 percent of her body and was in the hospital for two and a half months. For the first week, she was in a medically induced coma. When she came out of the coma she hallucinated for four days.

Proper safety protocols were not followed in the experiment that injured the children in the 2006 incident. Since that time, several more explosions have occurred in classrooms where this experiment has been performed.

The Chemical Safety Board recommends:

  • Bulk containers of flammable chemicals should not be used in educational demonstrations when small quantities are sufficient.
  • Employers should follow strict safety controls -including appropriate personal protective equipment for all participants, in demonstrations involving hazardous chemicals.
  • A comprehensive hazard review is conducted prior to performing any educational demonstration.
  • A physical barrier should be provided between the demonstration and the audience.

Our law firm represents people who have been injured in explosions and recently recovered a $10 million settlement for a client who was badly burned in an explosion. Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman are our lead attorneys for these cases. To contact them, click here. Or, call them toll-free at 1 (888) 377-8900. The consultation is free and there is no obligation.

Rainbow Fire