Manly West Public School experiment: Investigators called in after 11 students burnt in explosion


Paramedics have detailed the ‘chaotic’ scene they were called to when 11 children and one teacher were rushed to hospital with burns after a science experiment went ‘horribly wrong’.

The ‘Black Worm’ or ‘sugar snake’ experiment – conducted outside using sodium bicarbonate, sugar and methylated spirits – sparked an explosion at Manly West Public School in Balgowlah, on Sydney’s northern beaches, at about 1 pm on Monday.

Eleven Year 5 students and a male teacher were injured, with two children suffering severe chemical burns to their chest, upper body, and face.

One child received care from a specialist medical team onboard on an ambulance, while the other was transported via a CareFlight helicopter.

NSW Ambulance Inspector Mark Whittaker and paramedic Madolyn O’meara, said the children were all ‘doing well’ on Tuesday morning and are on the road to recovery.

The ‘Black Worm’ or ‘sugar snake’ experiment – conducted outside using sodium bicarbonate, sugar and methylated spirits resulted in an explosion at the northern beaches school

An experiment sparked an explosion at Manly West Public School in Balgowlah, in Sydney's northern beaches at about 1pm on Monday, with police and paramedics called to the scene

An experiment sparked an explosion at Manly West Public School in Balgowlah, in Sydney’s northern beaches at about 1pm on Monday, with police and paramedics called to the scene

More than a dozen paramedics and multiple fire and rescue crews attended the scene in Balgowlah on Monday

More than a dozen paramedics and multiple fire and rescue crews attended the scene in Balgowlah on Monday

Mr Whittaker said he and his team arrived to find 11 children had all suffered ‘varying degrees of burn severity’, with two rushed to Westmead Children’s Hospital in serious conditions.

‘I think it was quite a chaotic scene initially,’ the ambulance inspector said.

‘This is completely foreign to them.

‘They were caught unaware, and the teachers did an amazing job corralling all students into the areas that they needed to be, and relocating all the patients to an area where they could receive treatment to cool down their burns.

‘That was fantastic for us, all our patients were very close together and we could assess them and treat them very easily.’

The blast was reportedly caused by a school science experiment involving sodium bicarbonate, sugar and methylated spirits

The blast was reportedly caused by a school science experiment involving sodium bicarbonate, sugar and methylated spirits

One student suffered serious burns and was rushed to Westmead Children's Hospital via a CareFlight Helicopter (pictured)

One student suffered serious burns and was rushed to Westmead Children’s Hospital via a CareFlight Helicopter (pictured)

The remaining nine students, who weren’t considered to be in serious conditions, had minor burns to their chest, lower abdomen and legs.

Five pupils were taken to Royal North Shore Hospital, and the remaining four were transported to Northern Beaches Hospital.

The teacher has also been taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Emergency services said a powerful gust of wind may have led to the explosion – with parts of Sydney and Melbourne reporting 100km/h gusts on Monday, but Mr Whittaker said he wasn’t able to confirm if the weather played a part.

It remains unclear if the students were wearing safety equipment. 

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell admitted the science experiment had gone ‘horribly wrong’ and will be investigated.

Eleven Year 5 students and a male teacher were injured, with two children suffering serious chemical burns to their chest, upper body, and face

Eleven Year 5 students and a male teacher were injured, with two children suffering serious chemical burns to their chest, upper body, and face

‘This is a fairly routine experiment,’ Ms Mitchell told Sunrise on Tuesday.

‘We have really strict measures in place around work, health and safety and how we manage these experiments in school.

‘Obviously, we will investigate what went wrong.’

The minister added the school staff had done a great job supporting students in ‘very upsetting circumstances’.

‘We are thinking of students who are injured and wishing them a speedy recovery and we will make sure we have supports in place at the school, including extra counselling,’ she said.

NSW Police, SafeWork NSW and the Education department will investigate.

Popular school experiment involving sodium bicarbonate and methylated spirits

A popular science experiment involving sodium bicarbonate, sugar and methylated spirits is the Carbon Sugar Snake.

It involves getting placing sand in a baking tray and pouring methylated spirits, lighter fluid or ethanol into an indentation and around the hole

Icing mixture (powdered sugar) is combined with bicarbonate soda in a bowl, which is then placed in the middle of the sand indentation

A lighter is then used to light the edge of the base of the icing mixture and bicarbonate soda pile, creating a flame

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk