Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Series of controlled explosions carried out at UK schools.

A series of controlled explosions have been carried out by bomb disposal experts at schools in England and Wales over the past 24 hours after concerns were raised about the storage of a potentially explosive chemical, 2,4-­‐dinitrophenylhydrazine (or Brady's Reagent), which is used in some A-level experiments. The chemical is both flammable and an oxidising agent, and can become an explosive under some circumstances if not stored correctly, which has resulted in advice from the Department for Education to destroy any unsafely stored chemical on-site rather than risk transporting it for disposal.

The structure of 2,4-­‐dinitrophenylhydrazine. Wikimedia Commons.

2,4-­‐dinitrophenylhydrazine is only dangerous when dry, and for this reason CLEAPSS (The body which provides advice on laboratory safety to UK schools) advises that the substance be stored wet, inside a container which is placed within an outer container that also contains water. Schools are currently being asked to check the storage of any 2,4-­‐dinitrophenylhydrazine they hold and to contact CLEAPSS for advice if the outer container is dry, and under no circumstances to attempt to open an improperly stored container (2,4-­‐dinitrophenylhydrazine is a friction explosive, and any dry dust caught in a screw top could potentially ignite like a match).

A number of residents living in areas close to schools have complained about explosions being carried out without warning. More seriously, concerns have been raised that these incidents may reflect lowering safety standards in UK schools as part of the government's academies program, which aims to give schools more autonomy and control over areas such as budgets and syllabuses. Services provided by CLEAPSS were formerly provided free to all schools, but now have to be purchased in, and it is not clear what proportion of schools are now doing this (although advice on 2,4-­‐dinitrophenylhydrazine is currently available to all schools for free on the CLEAPSS website), At the same time concerns have been raised that many schools with leadership drawn from outside the science sphere may be cutting back on support in science departments, lowering the pool of available advice in areas such as chemical storage.

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