Special Events and the Hazards of Combustible Dust: The Tragic Aftermath in Taiwan


At the Formosa Water Park in Taiwan on June 27, 2015, colored powder was released into the air to create a visual effect near a performance stage as part of the Color Play Asia event. Nearly 1,000 people were around the stage when the colored powder ignited causing a fireball that injured 524 people with over 200 critically injured. The injured included travelers from Japan, Europe, Malaysia, Singapore and China.

The Taiwanese President stated that those affected will receive compensation, and the government has banned both the event organizer and the event technician from leaving the country.  

It appears that the colored powder, once released, created a combustible dust cloud. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines combustible dust as "a solid material composed of distinct particles or pieces, regardless of size, shape, or chemical composition, which presents a fire or deflagration hazard when suspended in air or some other oxidizing medium over a range of concentrations."

Combustible dusts can be created from things such as sugar, flour, grain, wood, plastics, coal, sulphur and metals. When these types of material are finely ground into very small particles and dispersed into the air they can burn very rapidly in the form of a large fire ball. If the particles are the right size, in the right concentration and exposed to an ignition source, there is a high probability a dust explosion / deflagration could occur. In order to stay safe, any activity that could potentially create a dust cloud should be investigated to see if there is a risk of that dust being combustible. This is especially true if there are ignition sources nearby such as sparks, fire/flames, stoves, kilns, cigarettes or cutting & welding. In some cases even a static electric discharge can ignite these clouds.

Although disasters can't always be avoided, their impact can be mitigated by planning ahead. To better understand how to prepare for a special event and manage an incident, download Preparing for the Unexpected: Disaster Management Planning for Businesses.

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