Va. high school chemistry lab fire raises safety concerns about 'rainbow experiment'

- A chemistry lab fire that injured five students and a teacher at W.T. Woodson High School in Virginia has led to questions about the safety of the experiment that was being demonstrated in this classroom. One woman who knows this story all too well lived out this very tragedy in her own high school.

Calais Weber said it is outrageous that these preventable accidents just keep happening.

Weber was just 15 years old when her life changed forever. She explained in a video made by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board what happened to her that day nearly ten years ago in chemistry class.

“It was called the rainbow experiment,” said Weber. “It was meant to show how different chemicals burn at different light frequencies, so the flames end up being different colors when you burn them.”

Her teacher set up the demonstration on her desk in front of the classroom. No one was wearing safety gear. Weber explains in the video how her teacher then took out a bottle of methanol.

“Poured it onto the open flame and it exploded,” she said. “Because I was right in front, I took the brunt of it.”

Since that accident, Weber has been trying to educate the public about these experiments and how they can go horribly wrong.

We spoke with Weber by Skype and she was devastated to hear what happened at W.T. Woodson High School on Friday.

She said it breaks her heart every time she hears about these avoidable accidents.

“Not only do I know what those students are now going through, but I also know how preventable and unnecessary this is,” Weber told FOX 5.

So why does this keep happening? She believes the problem is improper training, complacency in an otherwise safe school setting and lack of knowledge.

“I really think there are teachers that for whatever reason don't understand the chemical properties of methanol and exactly why it's so dangerous and therefore don't understand how to use it properly,” she said.

Weber said in her accident, she was burned over 40 percent of her body and spent two and a half months in the hospital in excruciating pain. As a former model, her life was changed dramatically.

Since her experience, she has been working to raise awareness so others won't have to go through what she did.

But despite her tireless efforts in just the last year and a half, there have been at least four similar accidents across the country and resulting in more than 20 injuries.

“Not only are these injuries so devastating and life-altering, but it destroys families,” she said.

Weber said she has tried working with lawmakers to create standards in the classroom, but she can't keep their attention for very long. The issue is dropped and they are on to something else. Now, she wants to educate students and parents and are telling them speak up if they are not feeling safe.

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