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17 students, teacher injured after exposure to chemicals at Tennessee school science lab

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HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) - Officials say several students and teacher were treated for injuries after an accident in a science lab at a Hendersonville school on Wednesday.

At least eight Merrol Hyde Magnet High School students and a science teacher had to be taken to the hospital for treatment after Borax combined with some type of alcohol to cause a chemical reaction inside a science lab around 9 a.m.

“It was just an unintentional chemical reaction that caused a temporary flash fire which is a fire that lasts about three to five seconds it extinguished itself and the extinguisher and you have the residue from the chemical and the extinguisher in the room that was our concern then,” Hendersonville Fire Department Chief Scotty Bush said.

Borax is a component found in detergent and cosmetics. Bush stressed that this situation was accidental, calling it a chemical reaction gone wrong.

“Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the students that were burned," said Del Phillips, superintendent of Sumner County Schools. "We’re going to be keeping close contact with those families and parents through the night."

All students and the teacher are expected to be released from the hospital on Wednesday night.

Dr. Tiffany Farmer, director of education and community engagement at the Adventure Science Center, said there are household items that can cause flash fires like this.

“Pool chemicals, insect repellent, household cleaning items, detergent don't work well together," Farmer said. "Keep them in separate drawers cabinets or bins."

If there's ever a flash fire, Farmer says be prepared.

“Fire extinguishers are hugely important," Farmer said. "Always good to have a back up, always good to have some water on hand to put on the fire, or have a fire blanket things like that to help extinguish that fire quickly."

Farmer also urged all science labs to have water machines on hand to clean eyes.

”A lot of school laboratories will also have a safety shower so you can clean the whole body if you need to,” Farmer said.

(11 a.m. UPDATE)

Seventeen high school students and one teacher were injured in a HAZMAT situation at a Hendersonville school.

Hendersonville Fire Chief Scotty Bush said injuries were caused by reactions of exposure to different chemicals in the science lab at Merrol Hyde Magnet School.

Of the students, 17 were triaged or transported. Some students were taken to TriStar Medical Center in Hendersonville and four others were taken to the children's hospital at Vanderbilt.

TriStar Medical Center Dr. Berchaun Nicholls said the reaction was caused by a mixture of Borax and a type of alcohol. He said mixing the two produced a flame, which got out of hand.

Bush said he believes the injuries are non-life threatening. Some injuries were consistent with fire injuries and Bush said the injuries could have been from a flash fire, which can break out when certain chemicals come together.

Positive pressure fans are being brought into the school to create a positive influx of air. Bush said he feels confident that the school is safe to occupy once the fans run their course.

Sumner County Schools spokesman Jeremy Johnson said school is expected to be in session on Thursday.

Elementary school students and middle school students were also evacuated during the incident as a precaution.

All students have since been dismissed.

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Multiple crews are responding to a school in Hendersonville regarding a possible HAZMAT situation.

The call came in about 9:10 a.m. Wednesday at Merrol Hyde Magnet School. The fire department confirmed to WZTV seven students and one instructor have been transported. Other students on scene are getting treatment.

TriStar Medical Center in Hendersonville said they have received and are treating patients. Four of the injured students were transported to Monroe Carrell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt to be treated.

The Hendersonville Fire Department and Hendersonville Police are responding. The school has been evacuated and students are being dismissed:

  • Middle & High School dismissing at 10:15 a.m. from the gym.
  • Elementary dismissing at 10:30 a.m. from the soccer field.

There is no word on what exactly the HAZMAT situation is at this time. A media staging area is being set up.

WZTV has a crew headed to the scene and will be providing updates. Count on us to bring you the latest details in the story.

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