You may not think combustible dust is something to worry about, but it’s more prevalent a cause for concern than you might suspect. Between 2009 and 2013, 57 combustible dust incidents caused 26 people to die, and another 129 to be injured. Now, after a fireball engulfed a crowd of patrons in Taiwan, authorities in the U.S. are issuing warnings about powders used in Color Run events.
The incident in Taiwan, which injured and burned hundreds of people, was caused by the ignition of colored powders that were sprayed over the crowd.
“That was corn starch, which is a combustible powder, an organic powder,” said Wichita Fire Department Fire Prevention’s Chief Stuart Bevis. “It’d be just like flour or something like that.”
If the powder is made out of something combustible, and there’s the right mixture with air, it can explode if an ignition factor is introduced, such as an open flame, spark, electrical equipment, hot surface — or even static electricity.
These colored powders are not unlike the ones used in Color Run events, the “Happiest 5k on the Planet,” in which runners are doused with colorful powders throughout the race. Currently, there is a Color Run event planned in Salt Lake on August 22.
“They are cautioned on what materials they are using and many times they can document those materials,” said Bevis. “They’re non combustible powders so they don’t pose that issue.”
At the same time, although colored cornstarch isn’t normally combustible, it can burn or explode if the particles are the right size and in the right concentration in the presence of an ignition source.
The Office of the Kansas Fire Marshal has said that most Color Run events do have enough powder in the air to create a fire hazard, but that fires such as the one in Taiwan are very, very rare. Nevertheless, organizers have been advised to take the necessary precautions to ensure the events are as safe from fires as possible.
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