It turns out that even the simplest of experiments and science classroom projects can be dangerous in some way.
A few months back, the fifth-graders at Franklin’s Jefferson Elementary contracted salmonella, a nasty bacterial infection, from owl pellets, grayish, hardened clumps of regurgitated material that students dissect to figure out what the bird ate.
The packages they arrived in indicated they were sterile.
“People sincerely thought these were risk-free,” said Dr. Bela Matyas, a state disease sleuth who tracked the outbreak, which caused illness but no permanent health problems. “They thought this was no different than making a Mother’s Day present.”
But it was different. The pellets, it turned out, harbored salmonella. It was easy enough for the germs to make the leap from pellet to student, especially because the project extended over several days.
“There could easily have been a situation where a child would prod the pellet with their pencil and then put the pencil in their mouth,” Matyas said.
At an Illinois school nearly five years ago, a chemistry teacher was demonstrating how the color of a flame can indicate the presence of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, or some other salt. It is a staple of high school chemistry.
Suddenly, a fireball erupted, lunging at three students and burning them severely. It wasn’t the first time such an accident had happened.
Even material used in basic experiments has changed. In the past, when teachers wanted to demonstrate how food contains energy, they used nuts.
“But we don’t want to do that now because we have so many students who may have peanut allergies,” Decker said.
Instead, they substitute cheese puffs in the calorie-burning experiment.
“If you do that experiment, though, you’ll never want to eat a cheese puff again,” Decker said. “Because the stuff that comes out - oh my God, the grease, everything.
“But that’s science.”
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