A chemistry experiment at a science fair that went awry

Students admitted to hospital after fumes engulf laboratory

Updated - November 15, 2012 11:52 am IST

Published - November 15, 2012 11:30 am IST - KALAMASSERY

At first sight it appears to be a prank leading to a mishap. A wrong mixture inside the chemical laboratory causing those inside to scamper out of the room. But what happened at the science fair at St. Paul’s International School Kalamassery on Wednesday, incidentally the Children’s Day, could have been more serious than that.

The day was marked for science fair, where all students from class one to twelve showcased their science projects inside the class room. Children were to visit all the exhibits during the day. And one class of the Plus One students chose to demythify the magic of chemical reaction. However, a mix-up during the experiment led to fumes spreading over the entire block, and more than 50 children had to be rushed to the Cooperative Medical College to administer first aid. Luckily, no one was seriously injured.

The handwritten description on a chart paper stuck to the window behind the bench where the mishap occurred said that it featured “Magic Lamp”. This was a mixture of Potassium permanganate and Sulphuric Acid, which is an oxidising agent. “This is inflammable and thus burns,” warned the note.

However, Shyama, the chemistry teacher, told the media at the hospital that the mishap happened when one of the students inadvertently lit a match near a girl holding a test tube filled with carbon disulphide. Panicked, the girl dropped the test tube, leading to the chemical catching fire and causing fumes.

“Only three students with a history of wheezing were admitted in the ICU for observation, all others have been released after first aid. The school had all safety precautions in place. The building where it happened was just four years old and it has proper fire fighting mechanism,” said Father Douglas Pinhero, director of the school.

Those remaining in the ICU were Faiza Rahman, sixth standard student, Andrea Rose and Irene Terwin, both eight standard students. Their condition was reported to be stable.

But a student, who was in the classroom adjacent to where the mishap occurred, said that even though fumes covered the entire area, they were asked to remain in the class. Attempts to douse the fire with water only thickened the fumes and they were evacuated only after some of the children showed symptoms of suffocation.

No teachers were around while the children played with chemicals, neither was any fire extinguisher readily available, said a student who was in the block. But neither any of the children nor their parents were willing to be quoted. As one of the parents requested, “please do not put the career of our childern in peril. There is no proper Parent Teacher Association here so that we can raise these issues.”

Father Pinhero said that there was indeed an executive committee comprising of select parents that meet often to discuss issues related to the school. Another student in the school said that authorities provided them with food and refreshments and asked not to use what they had brought as there were doubts about it being contaminated by chemical fumes. Public Works Minister V.K. Ibrahim Kunju, Anwar Sadath, MLA, and District Collector P.I. Sheikh Pareed visited the children at the hospital.

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