“Don’t mail matches”

Coupon for two free books from Cleveland Institute of Electronics.

The picture depicts the inside of a promotional matchbook from the ‘60s or ‘70s. Looks pretty easy: if you want two free books from the Cleveland Institute of Electronics, Inc., complete your information and mail it. However, if you read the far right, you may laugh or cry, depending on your sense of humour. Did people really send the matches along with the matchbook? It boggles the mind. How could someone be so — pardon the use of a politically incorrect term — stupid as to mail the matches?!? I have to wonder if the warning label was needed or if perhaps the matches should not have been included in the first place.

In a recently issued statement, the US Chemical Safety Board Chairman, Rafael Moure-Eraso, warns against the use of methanol during laboratory and classroom combustion demonstrations. His statement is in the wake of a fire during a set of chemical demonstrations in a museum in Reno, Nevada.1 The injuries caused in this accident are serious; that is not in question. I would like to know why someone carrying out this demonstration was so lacking in basic chemistry as to allow this to occur. Why was this person not given proper training? How can we best deal with this kind of thing? One answer is to ban the substance in question. While this is understandable, it doesn’t improve anyone’s knowledge. And given the way things go in today’s litigious society, we’ll have banned pretty much everything before too long. (Did you know that food is a choking hazard?) I understand that certain chemicals need to be banned. Making nitroglycerin is a bad idea, but to ban methanol, or not to allow laboratory burners is, in my opinion, going too far. This kind of thing sends teachers the message that they are incompetent, ignorant boobs, incapable of any kind of cogent scientific thought. An acquaintance of mine works in Health and Safety for a local school board. She tells me that bleach — the stuff in everyone’s laundry room — is banned in classrooms. I think that this is a little extreme. Why not provide teachers with mandatory training with respect to the proper use and storage of this household substance? Why not keep it in a locked cabinet, out of student reach? Maybe the bottle can be labelled “Do not mix with acids or toilet bowl cleaner or ammonia”.

I wonder where this will end. Will I have to wear safety glasses and gloves when shopping in Home Depot? Will I need a hazmat suit to clean my garage? I invite our readers to weigh in on this. It’s time that teachers — not just school board policy wonks or trustees or Health and Safety “specialists” — have their say.


  1. Below is an excerpt taken from the US Chemical Safety Board website about the accident.

The incident happened when boric acid was to be burned in the presence of a methanol-soaked cotton ball. When the cotton failed to ignite it was realized that it had not been adequately wetted with methanol. More methanol was added to the cotton from a four-liter (one gallon) plastic bottle. Unknown to personnel, the cotton ball was likely continuing to smolder, and it ignited the freshly added methanol and flashed back to the bottle.