[BPSDB]Waterloo Road, the eponymous school in BBC 1’s drama/soap opera, with its disaster-prone staff and unruly students, seems to have managed until now without a science department. This changed with the Wednesday 11 November episode, which featured helpings of bad science and bad education.
Plot summary. A student nicks some laboratory alcohol and uses it to spike bottles of soft drinks, then sells the resultant cocktail to his fellow students. One drinks rather a lot of it and is hospitalised. This is not the bad science as it is pretty much what you’d expect. The bad science is the Executive Head Teacher saying “Selling alcohol would be bad enough but this is ethanol”. Ethanol, FKA ethyl alcohol, is the alcohol found in alcoholic drinks. The reason why spiking drinks with laboratory alcohol is a really bad idea is that it is industrial methylated spirits (IMS) which is 5% methanol – which is extremely toxic. Furthermore, IMS bottles are labelled as harmful, and while the character doing the spiking has previously been portrayed as somewhat dim one would assume that even he would pause at considering a “harmful” liquid to be drinkable.
I am aware that schools are allowed to hold small quantities of pure ethanol for experiments which require it, drinking something spiked with it would have only the usual effects associated with overdoing the sauce ie inebriation followed by a hangover. However, the school would have to be licensed by Customs and Excise to hold the stuff and its use would have to be carefully monitored precisely because it is drinkable.
This leads neatly into the bad education. At Waterloo Road, IMS is kept in an unlocked wooden cupboard in the laboratory allowing students to gain access. In reality, IMS being both harmful and inflammable would be kept in a locked metal cabinet in a separate store room – which would also be kept locked.
Unlike some of the teachers in my department, I actually like this programme. I just think it would not hurt to get some basic background facts right.
Tags: TV drama