Chemical Safety Board criticizes teacher, experiment that caused flash fire at school

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DENVER -- Harsh criticism Tuesday for the teacher involved in a Denver school lab demonstration that sent students to the hospital. Investigators say it was a bad idea from the start.

They say the teacher just didn't understand how dangerous this type of chemistry demonstration could be. There have been similar accidents at other schools, and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board says these kinds of experiments are too dangerous for schools like this one.

One of the students injured at Strive Academy Monday morning was still in the hospital Tuesday night. The student has serious injuries from what the Chemical Safety Board concludes was a chemistry lesson gone terribly wrong.

"The chemistry teacher was not aware of the dangers of methanol and was not trained in the danger of ethanol," Mark Wingard of the Chemical Safety Board says.

The board, which came to Denver Tuesday to look into Monday's accident says the school's chemistry teacher was trying to do a methanol demonstration, but the board says he seriously underestimated the danger of methanol.

It sparked a 15-foot wall of fire causing a school evacuation and sending four students to the hospital. Three of them have been released.

"I only see one of the students. His skin was peeling off and it looked like second degree burns," says David Mathias who watched as the fire exploded. "We were just chaotic trying to figure out what happened. We just see fire everywhere."

"A small flame flashed back into the container resulting in a 15-foot flame that shot out and hit the student in the chest resulting in severe injuries," an investigator explains.

As for the student who has the worst injuries, his family remains at his hospital bedside. They say they are only focused on his recovery right now.

The Chemical Safety Board says the methanol demonstration attempted has little or no educational value and it adds that schools like Strive Academy should not be doing experiments with these kinds of flammables.

The school released a statement Monday:

"The safety of our students if the first priority of all of us at SMART, and our thoughts go out to the four students who were injured today. We are cooperating with Denver Public Schools and the Denver Fire Department and have launched our own investigation into yesterday’s event, including the review of all lab-related safety policies and protocols. The teacher involved, Daniel Powell, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending further investigation, and we have suspended the use of all high school science labs during our investigation."