‘Boiling water’ stunt challenges Loyola’s burn center

Natalie Battaglia | Loyola University Chicago

Chicago’s cold snap left many with frostbite and, for a select few, with burns.

Nearly two weeks ago, a bitter cold front called a “Polar Vortex” swept through Chicago. The sub-zero temperatures kept students home from school, people away from work and brought some to the hospital thanks to the popular “boiling water challenge.” 

Eight people were treated at Loyola’s Burn Center in Maywood after performing or observing the challenge — which involves throwing boiling water into the air where the cold temperature turns it to vapor — according to a press release from Loyola Medicine spokesperson Jim Ritter. 

“We strongly warn people to not perform the boiling water challenge,” Loyola burn surgeon Arthur Sanford said in the press release. “There is no safe way to do it.”

People can experience first, second or third degree burns from boiling water landing on their feet, face or body, the release said. The patients treated at the Burn Center ranged from 3 to 53 years old. 

Loyola students Meredith Hawley and Claire McCullough said they tried the boiling water challenge during the polar vortex a few weeks ago. Hawley and McCullough, both seniors at Loyola, said they’d heard of the challenge before the most recent cold weather. 

“We have a great video of one of our friends playing a really dramatic ‘Final Countdown’-esque song as we walked out and then threw the water,” McCullough, 22, said. 

However, Hawley said the challenge, which became a viral trend on social media during the cold weather, wasn’t quite as successful as other versions she saw online. 

“I saw better videos online of people throwing it off a balcony and that looked cooler but ours just went in to the snow,” Hawley, 21, said.  

Students weren’t the only ones participating in the viral challenge. Loyola’s Department of Residence Life posted a video of the challenge on its Facebook page. The video was filmed in from of Simpson Living-Learning Center on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. It was posted with the caption, “Hey Ramblers! Just a reminder that it’s still cold enough to make snow, so we recommend staying inside until tomorrow!” 

The week before, Residence Life sent an email out to students living on campus with tips to stay safe during the cold weather. 

Loyola spokesperson Evangeline Politis confirmed on behalf of Campus Safety that there were no reported cases of Loyola students injuring themselves during the challenge. However, Politis didn’t provide comment on behalf of Loyola’s Department of Residence Life. 

McCullough and Hawley said they tried to stay safe while doing the challenge. 

“We were definitely like ‘this is boiling water, we need to be careful,’” Hawley, a psychology major, said. “But I didn’t think that people could get hurt.” 

Loyola sophomore John Colgan, a biology major, said he’d heard of the challenge but decided not to jump on the bandwagon. 

“I thought it seemed like it was kind of dangerous,” Colgan, 19, said. 

When told about the recent injuries the challenge has caused, Colgan wasn’t surprised. 

“When you play with boiling water, what do you expect?” Colgan said. “It just doesn’t seem smart to me.”

Loyola sophomore Sareh Alshamary said she saw the challenge circulate on social media, where she said she saw some people do the challenge not only with water, but with Starbucks coffee. 

She added she hadn’t considered the safety implications about the challenge either. 

“I really didn’t think about that, I just thought I didn’t want to get cold so I didn’t want to go outside,” the bioinformatics and computer science major said. “But yeah that’s probably a big concern.” 

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