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Report Reveals Horror of Botched Science Experiment That Maimed Teen

By Emily Frost | June 26, 2014 6:20pm
 The investigation gives a clearer picture of what happened that day and what went wrong. 
Investigation Probes Beacon High School Chemistry Fire
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A botched chemistry experiment at Beacon High School maimed one student so badly that he looked like the "victim from a battlefield," a probe by school investigators found.

"Oh my God, I set a kid on fire," science teacher Anna Poole said after her Jan. 2 Rainbow Experiment at the West 61st Street school went terribly awry, according to a Special Commissioner of Investigation report.

The teacher was the only one in the classroom wearing safety goggles, investigators found. In addition, there was no fire blanket in the lab at the time and students and the teacher struggled to get the fire extinguisher to work, according to the report.

The explosion happened about 9 a.m. when Poole was adding more methanol from a 1-gallon bottle to one of the Petri dishes. It was like a "fire ball," said school custodian Dimitri Stefanopoulos, who went on to tell investigators that the injured boy's ear was "melted" and "he looked like a victim from a battlefield."

The mid-experiment explosion sent flames shooting onto a 16-year-old boy, causing second- and third-degree burns, and a 16-year-old girl, who suffered first-degree burns, according to the FDNY.

Just after the accident occurred, science teacher Thomas Covotsos told fellow staff members that Poole did not need to use a 1-gallon bottle of methanol during the experiment, and instead could have used a small amount transported to the lab table via a beaker, Stefanopoulos told investigators.

The experiment involves lighting chemicals on fire to produce different colored flames, according to Principal Ruth Lacey.

The principal said she did not know the experiment was planned, but she added that she does not require experiments be pre-approved.

The commissioner's report does not make any direct recommendations to the schools chancellor, but rather lays out what transpired, based on interviews with 10 students, the principal, two other science teachers, one of the injured students, a custodian and a statement from Poole. 

Shortly after the accident, Chancellor Carmen Fariña told all schools to suspend the experiment indefinitely. 

On Jan. 9, Beacon was slapped with eight violations by the FDNY, including not having a ventilation hood in its lab and improper storage of chemicals. The DOE did not respond to request for comment on whether the school is now in full compliance. 

The report was also sent to the state Department of Education. 

"Poole will remain reassigned while we carefully review the report and determine the appropriate action. Student safety is of the utmost importance to the department," a DOE spokesman said.