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Dark side of color run powders

Posted at 7:31 AM, Nov 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-18 07:31:14-05

Color run events and races are becoming more popular everywhere, with large groups of people tossing colorful powders in the air.

Runners in 5k races are getting doused with the powders, and many color race event holders promote it as a "fun, family atmosphere."

But the I-Team at Fox 4 sister station ABC Action News found these colors can clash with safety. 

In June, clouds of colored powder burst into flames at an event at a water park in Taiwan, creating a giant fireball. Almost 500 people were hurt, many of them severely burned. At least 12 people died. 

Investigators believe the powder may have ignited from heated lights or possibly a cigarette. 

Could something like this happen at a color run in Southwest Florida? We teamed up with the Naples Fire Department  who tested the same sort of colored powders for us to see if they would burn. 

Firefighters sprayed it over a flare and the entire stream of flying powder ignited and became a stream of flaming color. 

"I think it's worse than we could have imagined," Naples Fire Chief Stephen McInerny said. 

Race organizers say the powder they use is a dyed cornstarch that's 100% safe. But Naples Fire Chief McInerny told us it's a carbohydrate and starch that readily burns. 

To find out more, we sent sealed bags of colored powder to a lab at Middle Tennessee State University. 

"It's not true to say that they are based only with corn starch or wheat flour."

In all samples, experts found various metals not associated with corn starch. Two separate samples found chemicals similar to D-Con rat poison. 

"I think that was probably most concerning that these events throw powder in the air, they actually advertise and promote you throwing it above your heads all at once," Cheif McInerny said. 

Chief McInerny isn't the only one who's concerned. After the tragedy in Taiwan, government officials there immediately banned the use of these powders until they could determine if they are safe. Something the fire marshal would like to see happen here in Southwest Florida.