As victims of an inferno caused by colored powder catching fire at the Color Play Asia party in a New Taipei City water park fought for their lives in hospitals yesterday, details of the accident emerged which commentators said indicated that the explosion was an accident waiting to happen.
The incident at Formosa Fun Coast (八仙海岸) water park in New Taipei City’s Bali District (八里), saw nearly 500 injured when corn starch ignited causing a series of fireballs, which engulfed young people dancing to techno music in a drained swimming pool at about 8:30pm on Saturday
As much as three tonnes of fine cornstarch had been prepared for use during the event, which was in its second year, New Taipei City Deputy Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) said.
About 4,000 tickets were sold for the event. Each partygoer paid an entrance fee of NT$1,500 and was given three packets of colored powder, according to the Chinese-language Apple Daily.
A relative of an eyewitness was quoted as saying that people dancing in front of the stage were almost ankle-deep in dust.
Hou said a preliminary investigation found that, in addition to the powder thrown by partygoers, park staff had used canisters of carbon dioxide to blow dust toward the crowd.
As an increasing amount of dust flooded the drained pool, it suddenly caught fire at the side of the stage, probably ignited by a cigarette or another source of heat such as the lighting rig, sound equipment system or another machine, he said.
Other witnesses said that smoking was permitted at the event. Eyewitnesses have said one staff member was smoking while working onstage.
In a letter to the Chinese-language United Daily News yesterday, Wufeng University fire science department instructor and Taichung Harbor Fire Department deputy captain Lu Shou-chien (盧守謙) said that explosions of fine solid particles suspended in the air are particularly destructive, adding that even high temperature gases in the vicinity can cause the particles to ignite.
There are six factors which contribute to explosions of this type, Lu said. They are the fineness of the dust, its density and kinetic energy, the degree of moisture and the energy needed to ignite the particles and cause a chain explosion, Lu said.
The conditions at the party met all of these criteria. The powder used at the event was allegedly cornstarch, which is very fine and dense when suspended in the air, Lu said, adding that the party hosts created kinetic energy by keeping the powder in motion with fans.
The possibility of the powder coming into contact with lit cigarettes, the projected lights and heated filaments in bulbs at the event, static electricity or even sparks generated by friction are all possible sources of the energy needed to trigger the combustion of the powder, Lu said, adding that the density of the powder in the air would have led to chain explosions.
To prevent dust explosions one must eliminate energy sources and increase the degree of moisture in the area as well as limiting powder density in the area below a certain threshold, Lu said.
Had the organizers sprayed the area periodically with water and increased relative moisture to 65 percent or above, it would have greatly limited the amount of powder in the air and the moisture would have absorbed a great amount of energy caused by the oxidation of the powder, Lu said.
The moisture would have increased the electrical conductivity of the powder and the air around it, allowing it to discharge electricity and preventing the occurrence of static electricity, Lu said.
In the wake of Saturday night’s incident, authorities have shut down the water park and banned the use of fine powder at any other events until further notice.
With local governments nationwide now calling for the use of colored powder at public events to be halted, with a view to its eventual ban, Lu cautioned that even non-combustible powders such as powdered aspirin, powdered aluminum or milk powder can also cause dust explosions.
Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Administration Minister Wei Kuo-yen yesterday (魏國彥) called on the nation to provide better science education.
He said that insufficient education about basic science might have contributed to the accident, and that the problem was manifested by the event organizer’s and the participants’ lack of awareness about the danger they were in.
He said that as many as 40 cigarette butts were reportedly found, and if there had been someone with a basic understanding of science at the scene, the tragedy could have been prevented.
Wei added that he is against using colored powders at events, as they increase the concentration of suspended particulates in the air and can pose a threat to participants’ health.
Additional reporting by Sean Lin
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