Color runs, where you run through a bright cloud of powder along the course, are growing in popularity across the country. The powder makes for a fun experience, but how safe is it?  

Step into a color run and you will see a blast of bright powder floating in the air, covering the participants. It’s an experience Jeri Lauay can’t wait for. She’s never run a 5K  before, and she wants the Color Vibe Race in Sioux Falls later this summer to her first. The reason why is simple. 

“The colors, yeah the colors and I know a lot of people have done it and thoroughly enjoyed themselves while they did it,” Lauay said.  

She’s not alone in her excitement. According to Running USA, non-traditional events like Color and Mud runs, have become even more popular than traditional marathons and half marathons. Kaylene Schoenhard took part in the Color Vibe Race in Sioux Falls in 2012. She’s not surprised to see the popularity of the race expand. 

“I remember it was all age groups when I did the one here in Sioux Falls. From people, having strollers to littler kids so I think it’s a fun event for families to do as an activity,” Schoenhard said. 

While running through the powder can be a good time for all, there’s also something to be aware of the next time you step up to the starting line. Some of the powders, when floating in midair, can be flammable.

“Worst case scenario is if you get the right concentration, you find the ignition source and then it is suspended in midair, it’s possible you can get a flame front,” Mike Top with Sioux Falls Fire Rescue said. 

In the player above is an example of the worst-case scenario. A celebration in Taiwan last summer turns into chaos as color powders thrown in the air ignite into a sea of flames, leaving hundreds with serious burns. Mike Top with Sioux Falls Fire Rescue says in this case the powder was airborne in a close space, which made it easier to start a fire.    

“It has to be somewhat contained, or somehow the dust has to be contained in an area so a flaming combustion can just kid of move around and burn that concentration of dist,” Top said.

Many will mix these powers with flour to make it easier to float in the air, but Top warns that could be a dangerous combination. 

‘They’re using that so that it threw better so that is acted better in the air. The only thing is when you do that, you’re changing the flammable properties of it. Now the product is different than what it was tested for,” Top said. 

Sioux Falls Fire Rescue prepares to show you how it’s possible. Crews set up a demonstration for us using a coffee tin. We bought some color run powder online, and the department is using it here. It’s mixed with flour and then placed in the tin. On one side, they plan to blow air to simulate the powder floating in air. On the other side, they will use a flame to simulate a spark which could ignite a fire.

I showed the video of our demonstration to the two runners. 

Inside the coffee tin, there is a small explosion created by the mixture of powder and flour. You can see the powder poof out of the top, and a flame comes out the side of the can. Top compared it to a small-scale grain bin explosion. He says to get this type of explosion, the mixture needs to be floating in the air and there must be a spark or ignition source. 

“All of the conditions have to be right. It has to be dry enough but it’s possible that there could be enough static electricity generated in those dust particles that would be it’s own ignitions source to get that dust to ignite,” Top said.  

Is it enough to stop this runner from another color run?

“I think it would. I had never heard of it when I did the color run, but it’s kind of one of those, I did it once, I don’t know if it’d be something I would want to participate again. And knowing that probably not,” Schoenhard said. 

For Lauay, she says it’s important to research an event before participating. 

“Don’t be scared to ask the organization as far as what are in these powders? Are they harmful if you breath them? If you ingest them? Don’t be scared to ask questions,” Lauray said. 

We should point out that the powder used in our demonstration came from India, which doesn’t have the same regulations as powders made in the United States. It’s also difficult to see exactly what’s in the substance because there are no ingredients listed on the label. As for the upcoming Color Vibe in Sioux Falls top says he’s not concerned.   

“They have tested their product. They have video footage of them testing their product. I have no reservations about them coming here,” Top said. 

Still, not every event will follow the same regulations which is why the next time you consider a colorful run, it pays to do your homework before you step on the starting line. 

According to its website, Color Vibe has a few safety measures at each event.