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Science Teachers Need Training Before Fiery Chemistry Displays, Panel Says

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A federal board seeking to improve safety in science classrooms recommended Thursday that teachers undergo more training before performing fiery, explosive chemical experiments beloved of high schoolers.

After investigating three fires in the last two months, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board found that the teachers lacked safety training, used too much of the flammable chemicals, and did not put up see-through safety barriers between themselves and their pupils.

The three incidents, in Nevada, Colorado and Illinois, badly injured students and teachers but did not lead to any deaths. At the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum in Reno, 13 people received burns. All three cases involved demonstrations of flames using methanol.

The panel’s chairperson, Rafael Moure-Eraso, said it was not attempting to take the fun out of the classroom. “When performed safely these kinds of demonstrations can engage students and visitors and stimulate their interest in science,” he said. “But methanol… is classified as a highly flammable liquid, and users should adopt strict safety controls.”

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Write to Noah Rayman at noah.rayman@time.com