On December 10, 2013 the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents, released it latest video safety message focused on potential dangers in school chemistry laboratories. “After the Rainbow,” features Calais Weber, an accident survivor, who in 2006, at age 15 was severely burned during a chemistry demonstration performed by her teacher at a prestigious boarding school in Ohio. The video is a follow up to “Experimenting with Danger,” concerning laboratory accidents in three major universities.
In her own words, Calais describes the demonstration, called the “rainbow experiment,” that was meant to show how various mineral salts produce different color flames when burned. As part of the demonstration, mineral salts were mixed with highly flammable methanol in small dishes. CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “This is a new kind of video safety message for the CSB. Too often, chemical accident victims—survivors as well as fatalities—are forgotten as time goes on. In this video, Ms. Weber tells a painful and poignant story that we hope resonates in high school and academic labs across the country.”
In “After the Rainbow” Calais describes how the experiment went completely awry—causing her to be burned on 40% of her body—and details what should have been done differently on the day of the accident. In particular, she lists a lack of safety gear and the large amount of methanol present in the room. And she has advice for other teenagers who may feel unsafe in the classroom, saying, “While it can seem daunting, it’s perfectly ok to speak up if you’re not feeling safe, to always question, and if you’re given a piece of information on safety, read it.”
Calais believes that her accident was completely preventable and that with better attention to good safety practices, similar accidents can also be avoided. She says, “It feels with this type of injury that you’ve had so much taken away from you unnecessarily and to keep reading about other people who have had very similar experiences, it’s tragic and shouldn’t happen.”
CSB board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems. The Board has a wide section of DVD safety video titles available at www.csb.gov and www.youtube.com/uscsb.