We deal with preventing combustible dust explosions every day, but these are almost always in industrial or manufacturing buildings. It is rare for a severe dust explosion to occur outside or somewhere that doesn’t produce dust as part of a manufacturing process.
However, a party at a water park in Taipei, Taiwan ended in tragedy when a large concentration of combustible dust ignited and turned into a fireball. The party on June 28, 2015 was during a concert at the park, and colored corn starch dust was sprayed over the audience to create stage effects. An unidentified source caused the thick cloud of dust to ignite, which then created secondary explosions over the audience.
According to reports, there were about 1,000 people attending the party, and over 500 were injured in the dust explosion. About 200 people are in intensive care for the burns they suffered from the blast, with victims in almost 50 hospitals around the area. As of the morning of June 29, one woman who had burns over 90% of her body had died from the injuries.
Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je expressed concern for the victims and how severe these injuries are by saying, “For patients who suffer severe burns, the real challenge is dealing with the infection in the following days”.
Corn starch is one of the materials that OSHA lists as a hazard in their combustible dust NEP, and has fined several companies for having accumulations of this dust. Corn starch is also used in classroom science experiments to demonstrate dust cloud explosions.
The Taiwan police are suggesting criminal charges be brought against the organizers of the party, as well as technicians who prepared the dust effect, and colored powder has now been banned at any other events. The company that manufactures the powder said that the party organizers had purchased three tons of the dust but did not know how it was being used or how much was used in the explosion.
Update: As of Sunday, July 5th a second victim of the explosion has died, and according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare 449 victims remain under treatment, including 276 in intensive care units.
Update: Taiwan’s Consumers’ Foundation offered to organize a class action suit for the victims of the explosion. It is estimating that they could seek compensation up to $4 billion. The Foundation would also work to defray the $6,600 in individual legal fees each victim would have to pay to file the suit.
New Taipei City has already withdrawn $73.4 million from a fund that was created for the victims to cover hospital costs.