I'm a High School Chemistry teacher. I have only been teaching for a few years and know very few other chemistry teachers. Of the ones I do, One has died of cancer, one is a cancer survivor and one is being tested and currently in cancer therapy while an equal number remain healthy (but have taught fewer years). That's scarry.

Could it be coincidence or some other more localized cause? Yes. Although cases were up to 100 miles apart. I realize the sampling size is small and this is all very anecdotal but I'm looking for answers nonetheless. It seems to me that a possible culprit might be the haphazard way that stock handling and chemical lab supply making is done in High Schools as compared to higher education institutions or research facilities. Many schools don't vent their stock rooms even though it's required (there are no consequences) and teachers take the stock put it out on the counter and measure out what they need and make solutions. They don't bother with gloves, lab coats or aprons either. In a professional laboratory this would be done in a fume hood to minimize long term exposure to many substances with proper protective clothing.

Are there any readily identifiable health hazards for a High School Chemistry teacher based on the above information?


closed as primarily opinion-based by NotEvans., M.A.R., Klaus-Dieter Warzecha, Wildcat, Todd Minehardt Aug 11 '16 at 15:31

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I have been teaching chemistry at the college level (if you include my years as a TA in graduate school) since 1999. While there are certainly dangers involved in dealing with hazardous chemicals, I would not say that the job is unusually dangerous if you follow safe practices and use decent equipment. I have known many chemistry teachers and professors who lived well into their 80's and beyond. You're probably going to find certain workplaces which, for whatever reason, are more dangerous than most. I have heard of (but not verified) an incident at a local college where five female biology professors were diagnosed with uterine cancer, an event which is extremely improbable to occur by chance. Obviously, there is a substantial need to investigate such a situation and see if there is a common carcinogen present which is causing the cancer. Such a situation could conceivably occur in the vicinity of a chemistry lab, although it seems unlikely if all standard precautions are followed.

The greatest source of danger is likely to be the students themselves. When you have many young people together who are (1) easily distracted, (2) not particularly aware of their surroundings, and (3) lacking in manual dexterity (e.g. clumsy), they are far more likely to be a source of injury than the chemicals on their own. So long as you are willing to invest the time in enforcing safety in your labs on a consistent basis, I think you're going to be just fine.


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