The Las Cruces Teen Science Café welcomed the Las Cruces Fire Department’s Hazardous Material Response Team on February 21. From common household materials to industrial chemicals, the team talked about some of the ways they would determine if a substance was hazardous, and if it was, how to deal with it.
Hands on Activity
They set up four stations in the museum’s classroom with different field tests they use to locate and identify unknown chemicals. At the first station, they set up a HazMatID kit. This digital kit contains an offline database of chemical signatures and infrared spectroscopy to match the chemical to something in the database. We placed a drop of the unknown liquid on the reader and turned on the laser. The database provided us with a list of closely matching chemicals and we compared their charts to figure out what the unknown chemical was.
The next test they showed us was for an unknown powder. We placed a swab with the sample on it into test tubes filled with different liquids. If the color of the liquid changed it helped us identify what the material was.
We also searched for radioactive material using Geiger counters. Our presenter hid small “hazardous” discs in his pockets and we tried to find them by reading the Geiger counters. It was a lot harder than it sounds and we were only able to find a couple of the ones he had on him.
The last station was the “HazCat” kit. This kit is the “old way” of doing things. Even though it’s more time consuming than the other kits it is very effective. The instructions walked us through a series of simple chemical tests like testing the pH and using other reagents to identify characteristics of the unknown chemical. We followed the flow chart that, eventually, led us to the chemical ID. This was a much slower process than the HazMatID kit but it is really reliable.
We were so interested in finding out what the last chemical was that we didn’t realize we were way over our scheduled time. We can’t wait to have the fire department come back in the fall for another Teen Science Café about emergency field medicine.