Special Report: Bad Chemistry
"They could blow up or start a fire at any minute, and that could hurt my children," concerned mother Ellie Goldberg said.
"There were very old chemicals, there were unlabeled chemicals, there were all sorts of hazards," Goldberg said.
These hazards prompted her to call the state inspector who agreed that these conditions could cause "unexpected fires, explosions, or release of toxic fumes and gasses into the occupied spaces of the school."
"It was a very serious threat. My kids were in the building and I wanted them safe," Goldberg said.
Across Massachusetts, safety experts say middle and high school science labs are overflowing with dangerous chemicals that have the potential to ignite, burn and even explode.
"They can be toxic, they can be flammable. They can be corrosive and they can be reactive," Jim Kaufman of the Laboratory Safety Institute said.
Last month in Exeter, New Hampshire, several students had to be hospitalized after a chemical spill in the classroom.
At an Everett catholic high school, an old, unstable chemical had to be detonated by the bomb squad.
Last year in California a 16-year-old stole bomb-making materials intending to blow up the school.
"The number one concern is keeping the door locked, so somebody doesn't help themselves to something," Kaufman said.
Photos obtained by 7News show hazards found during safety inspections at New England area schools. Overcrowded shelves and deteriorated containers, high-risk explosive chemicals like bromine. Cancer causing chemicals like dioxane. Even a bottle of nitroglycerin, a substance that's extremely unstable.
"I think it's really important that people think about what's behind those locked doors, what's inside those chemical storage closets, but experts don't blame the schools themselves. Properly disposing of these chemicals can cost thousands of dollars; money not in their budget," Natick High School Science Department Chair Kathi Brown said.
"The disposal of chemicals can be a challenge," Kaufman said.
So to help, the state has begun a new program that matches schools with local businesses that can help with chemical management.
Natick High is one of the pilot schools being mentored by Boston Scientific.
"We're managing labs all the time and we should be able to transfer that expertise into a school system," Boston Scientific Environmental Health and Safety Manager Roy Barker said.
Of course, the number of mentor volunteers limits the program. Right now there are only three schools in the program, and the need is much greater.
"There's probably a good 200 schools that also can use this support," Director of Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance Paul Richard said.
As for Goldberg, the state made her kids school clean up their act. She suggests other parents insist their communitiesí cleanup the chemical labs as well to prevent a case of bad chemistry.For more information on the Mass Executive Office of Environmental Affairs Office of Technical Assistance program to help clean up chemistry labs click here.
For more information on what you as a parent can do, click here.
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