Is the Brisbane ColorRun less hazardous to your health?

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Welcome to my inaugural blog.

Some of you may have noticed that I was a participant in the initial round of monitoring for the Newcastle ColorRun. Why go back for more you may ask? Well I claim I am doing this in the name of science and for the greater good… believe that if you will 🙂

The Brisbane ColourRun took place on a sunny Sunday in May, and I was keen to see how the QLD run compared to the three NSW runs I had completed previously (some sort of state of origin maybe).

Generally, I saw less “Color” thrown at participant faces and above shoulder height. Most volunteers were well versed in aiming the Color at chest height and the amount of Color being thrown at us appeared to be less than that experienced in Newcastle (and Sydney). I didn’t get as many direct hits with the Color on the sampler as I had in Newcastle either (those Novocastrians do know how to throw a Color party!).

I saw a number of volunteers wearing respiratory protection in the form of a P2 disposable respirator which was a pleasant change from previous runs, where volunteers were observed to be covered in Color and stayed within the “Color Zones” for up to 4 hours without any form of respiratory protection.

The sampling methodology was the same as that implemented for the Newcastle ColorRun, with all samples pre and post calibrated in accordance with AS3640 (2009). Four willing participants wore sampling pumps throughout the run and whilst they were in the Color throw area at the end of the run. All samples ran for approximately 2.5 hours with exposure for the remainder of the day estimated to be zero as per the methodology used previously.

The table below lists the results in relation to the Workplace Exposure Standard.

Participant Result (calculated over 8-hours, assumed no exposure for remaining time after the ColorRun) Exposure Standard
Renee 1.5 mg/m3 4 mg/m3
Dani 0.8 mg/m3 4 mg/m3
Evan 14.2 mg/m3 4 mg/m3
Kristy 14.7 mg/m3 4 mg/m3

Half of the samples exceeded the exposure standard. This correlated well with the samples collected in Newcastle where 3 out of 5 samples exceeded the exposure standard.

In order to answer the initial question “Is the ColorRun hazardous to your health?”, I first combined the Brisbane results with the Newcastle results and performed statistical analysis of the data. As was the case with the Newcastle dataset, the 95th percentile was calculated to be well over the Exposure Standard. This again was due to the high sample results and the large degree of variability in the data set.

So what does this all mean? These results confirm that overall, although it is fun, participating in the ColorRun is hazardous to your health. However…the results demonstrated that some participants fared better than others. It was interesting to note each participants strategy during the run influenced the amount of Color inhaled.

For example, Dani ran the whole race and did not pause in the Color Zones, which resulted in an exposure well below the Exposure Standard. The same can be said for Renee who jogged the course and partook in the Color throw but was not overly covered in Color. On the other hand, both Evan and I jogged the course and willingly were covered in Color dust on all occasions, finishing the course covered in Color Dust.


Further to the recommendations made previously, it could be suggested that the way in which you approach the ColorRun course will influence the amount of Color you may potentially inhale. If you make a diligent effort to not linger in the Color Zones and progress directly through these with volunteers throwing Color at only chest height, you may well be able to complete the ColorRun with your exposure falling below the Exposure Standard.

Speaking from personal experience, the Color Dust is an irritant and it does clog your nose, mouth and eyes if inhaled or ingested and symptoms last up to three days. So consideration should be taken prior to participating in the ColorRun, in particular for those with young children or asthmatics.

If you do choose to participate in this event in the future, then take caution when going through the Color throws at each kilometre, which would include skipping them entirely, or wear respiratory protection in the form of a P1 or P2 disposable dust mask. I also recommend skipping the final colour throw entirely as this is where the majority of Color Dust is inhaled when Color is thrown into the air on 20 minute intervals.

The implementation of respiratory protection for volunteers at the Brisbane event was a welcome sight, but it appeared that this was worn on an individual basis (not everyone had them on) and volunteers may not have been educated in the health effects of breathing in all that Color Dust throughout the day (based on the fact some had respirators and some didn’t). Further education and information is recommended for both volunteers and participants alike to ensure people are aware of the potential risks to health prior to partaking in these runs in the future. As a side note, there are a number of items that need to be implemented when you provide respiratory protection to workers including fit testing, maintenance, and training in their use and limitations. Australian Standard 1715 is a good place to start if you’re unfamiliar with all of this.

The biggest risk to health appears to be for the volunteers based on the time they spend in a visually dusty environment. While we do not have personal exposure data to demonstrate their exposure above the Workplace Exposure Standard, they appear to be group at highest risk, and it is reasonably anticipated that exposure would exceed the Exposure Standard (and possibly above the protection factor afforded by the disposable respirators in use…they will only protect the volunteers up to a concentration up 40 mg/m3 if fitted and worn correctly). In accordance with the Work Health and Safety Regulations (which apply in both NSW and QLD), workers must not be exposed above the Exposure Standard, and if it is not certain on reasonable grounds whether the Exposure Standard will be exceeded, then air monitoring (personal exposure monitoring) must be performed. Out of the four ColorRuns I have participated in, I have not seen any volunteers set up with personal pumps to measure their exposure. This would be a key recommendation for event organisers to consider to both protect the health of volunteers and to ensure compliance with the Work Health and Safety Regulations. (Side note: it is entirely possible that this assessment and monitoring has occurred on other ColorRuns that I have not participated in!)

If any other occupational hygienists plan on attending a ColorRun in the future, I encourage you to perform additional exposure monitoring as additional data will provide more certainty and confidence in the results obtained to date.


One thought on “Is the Brisbane ColorRun less hazardous to your health?

    corrieberry said:
    October 5, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    I took part in a colour run as a volunteer in Bristol, UK this weekend. I wasn’t given protection, but the event was significantly smaller, with only 600 participants. I would estimate I was actually in the thick powder cloud for about an hour. I’ve had incredibly painful sinuses since, and have been convinced I was coming down with a cold. Now that I’m three days in, I’m starting to realise it’s NOT a cold, but a result of the colour run.

    The day after the run I rinsed my sinuses with a NeilMed saline solution. The results were disgusting, but I felt immediate relief and hoped that was the end of it. Unfortunately for the last two days I’ve been coughing up coloured mucus, laced with fine webs of blood. I can’t even imagine what this means, and have booked an appointment with the doctor.

    I will never take part in a colour event again, nor will I ever recommend anybody does. I was concerned at the time, but was volunteering as a representative of my work and didn’t want to let anybody down. If I’d even thought to do some research, I wouldn’t have done it. I suffer from hayfever and my nasal passages are sensitive to any irritation, but I assumed that a health and safety assessment would have been done that would mean adequate protection was provided (given what a H&S state the UK is). I now regret not abandoning ship…the benefit of hindsight.

    There’s so little information about it on the web, and I found these articles incredibly interesting – thank you. I’ve fed back what is happening to my work and the organisers of the event, but there are thousands of people who have no idea that it could have a more lasting effect than how long it takes for your photo to disappear off your Instagram feed. If you ever follow up on this again I’d love to know the results.

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