TASB Risk Management Fund

This is How You Make Home Science Experiments Safe

August 16, 2021 Nicole Callahan and Ryan Boyce

Teenage girls conducting home science experiment

Many Fund members have invested in online science curriculums to serve virtual learners during the pandemic. The Fund recently learned that some students have been instructed to unsafely dispose of home science experiment chemicals.

If a vendor provides your online science curriculum, make sure they give parents and students the information and equipment necessary to complete assignments safely.

What’s the risk?

Students should participate in science experiments involving chemicals at a school facility, under a trained adult’s supervision, when possible. Online programs that don’t offer an onsite option will ship chemicals to students so they can conduct science experiments at home.

Last year, some students were advised to send unused chemicals back to vendors, put them in the trash, or pour them down the sink after experiments. All three options could violate the law and put health, property, the environment, and even your schools at risk:

  • Federal and state laws dictate how users dispose of chemicals. Anyone who ships chemicals must have the proper permits.
  • Chemicals can pollute groundwater and damage plumbing.
  • Some chemicals don’t play nicely together. Combining common bleach and ammonia, for example, can produce a toxic, potentially lethal vapor.
  • Other chemicals can harm us even if they aren’t mixed with incompatible counterparts. A light concentration of sulfuric acid can irritate the skin and potentially cause irreversible damage.

Home science experiment packet core elements

So, what’s the answer? Students need a quality, hands-on science curriculum whether they are on campus or remote. You can give them the freedom to conduct science experiments at home while also managing the risk.

Each chemical must have a safety data sheet (SDS) that provides all the information a user needs to avoid injury and respond to emergencies. Review the packets your vendors send to students. Make sure they include these core elements at minimum.

Safety instructions

Parents and students need to know how to protect themselves from burns, skin reactions, and other chemical-related injuries. For example, best practices dictate no eating when working with chemicals. Safety instructions should also explain which emergency equipment must be nearby and how to clean up after the experiment.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE puts a barrier between people and hazards. Examples include nitrile gloves and safety glasses with side shields.

PPE requirements vary by chemical. Section eight of the SDS includes PPE guidance. Each kit should also explain how to dispose of used PPE.

First aid procedures

Even if parents and students follow safety procedures, accidents can happen. Make sure your stakeholders have the information they need to respond quickly and confidently if someone is exposed to harmful chemicals.

For example, swallowing sodium hydroxide can cause nausea. According to the SDS, the exposed person should thoroughly rinse their mouth and drink sips of water. Kits should include contact information for poison control and other emergency responders.

Instructions for safe, compliant disposal

Some local waste disposal agencies will pick up less-harmful chemicals or host waste disposal events. Your schools can take ownership of the process and ensure safe, compliant chemical disposal. Consider providing a chemical drop-off spot or organizing an end-of-school chemical collection event.

Get more chemical management tips

If you want to learn more about delivering a safe education to virtual learners, take advantage of our chemical inventory management on-demand webinar.

For just 60 minutes of your time, you will:

  • Get an insider’s peek at chemical-related challenges the Fund uncovers in schools
  • Master strategies for maintaining appropriate chemical supplies
  • Glean tips for getting the most value when hiring chemical disposal vendors

As always, we encourage you to collaborate with your TASB risk solutions consultant this school year. Together, you can identify and control the risks that threaten your schools, your staff, and your students.

About the authors

TASB Risk Solutions Consultants Nicole Callahan and Ryan Boyce help Fund members control the risks that cause workplace injuries, property damage, and vehicle-related incidents. Callahan brings 20 years' experience in managing chemical hazards to her relationships with our members. Boyce, a Certified Clinical Behavioral-Based Ergonomic Specialist, also earned a master's in public health. He specializes in corporate environmental health and safety with a specialization in repetitive stress injury prevention and wellness. 

Tagged: chemicals, compliance, "student safety"