Earlier this summer, hundreds of people were severely burned at a water park in Taiwan after colored powder dust was sprayed onto a crowd and burst into flames. According to national reports, the cornstarch-and-food-coloring mixture was sprayed at high velocity into a crowd of mostly 20-something attendees, and the fire caused severe burns that put more than 180 people in intensive care. Taiwan’s prime minister immediately banned events using airborne colored powder dust and launched an investigation into the fire.

Meanwhile, in the states, there have been a lot of questions about whether color runs pose the same threat to participants. Companies like The Color Run and Color Me Rad host 5k races that are “loosely based on the Hindu Festival of Colors,” also known as Holi. The idea is pretty simple: start out in a clean white t-shirt, walk or run (or cartwheel or whatever your heart desires) through a 3.1-miles course lined with people who toss colored powders, gels, and liquids all over you, and cross the finish line looking like an Easter egg. The events, which tend to attract people of all ages and running abilities, have gotten increasingly more popular over the last four to five years. But, the question remains:  are these events safe?

Shortly after the fire and injuries in Taiwan, Color Me Rad responded to a question on Twitter, stating that their powder is, “from a different manufacturer, and we’ve put on hundreds of events without those results.” Neither Color Me Rad nor The Color Run include questions about fire safety in the FAQ sections of their websites, but both address ingredients in the powder. Color Me Rad describes the powder as “non-toxic, non-rash-inducing, colored corn starch.”

About a month after the explosion, the Kansas State Fire Marshal issued a safety warning, with information and safety tips to ensure safety at future events with colored powder. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) also recently published an article about the issue, stating a few key things to keep in mind:

  • The dust used in these events is usually made from colored cornstarch, which NFPA officials say is a very fine powder from a combustible solid, which can “create a combustible dust cloud.”
  • A flash fire or dust explosion requires a perfect storm of oxygen, an ignition source, and a combustible powder dispersed above the minimum explosible concentration.
  • NFPA officials say spraying the powder enhances the dust cloud dispersion and formation, and the dust is distributed via compressed air canisters at events all over the country.
  • Event organizers and participants should be aware of electrical safety, and avoid using things like halogen lamps around the powder. Cigarettes should also be avoided in the race/event areas.

Have you been to a color run? Tell us what you think about them in the comment section below.