Excerpt from an upcoming interview for Fire Arts Magazine:

What do you mean by Clean Burning fuel and would you consider White Gas (Coleman’s Fuel) to be clean?
Well that’s a bit subjective. ‘Clean’ is a meaningless term except in marketing and perhaps I should not have used it.

You could take ‘clean’ to mean odourless, smoke/carbon black free or non toxic, and in 2 of those 3 definitions ‘Coleman’s’ is clearly a better choice than some of the Australians kerosene use or the British with their paraffin.

However if your looking at a lack of potential toxicity then some of the isoparaffins are the clear winner. These are highly refined aliphatic branched chain isomers with a high degree of purity and specific properties including very little or no odour.

I use isoparrafins with very very low naphthalene (not to be confused with naphthas) sulphur and aromatic contents (aromatic has nothing to do with smell but for hydrocarbons refers to benzene/toluene i.e. bad stuff). I like to see aromatics lower that 0.05% and prefer 0.01% or lower.

The great thing is isoparaffins are available in a range of flash points and are used in a range of specialist industries worldwide. It doesn’t mean you can pick them up at the corner store but they are available if you know how to request it from a distributor professionally.

In contrast Colemans (aka White Gas, VM&P Naphtha, Coleman Fuel) although very low in benzene can apparently be up to 25% n-hexane and 15% cyclohexane. Both n-hexane and cyclohexane have strict occupational exposure limits and the potential with long term repeated exposure to induce neuropathy (nerve damage). Coleman Fuel contains up to 25% n-hexane and up to 15% cyclohexane by weight (Calumet, 1998). Vol. 1, No. 9: Clandestine Drug Labs/ Methamphetamine Sept 2003 Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)

The perspective we need to keep in mind is the amount of exposure. You might think your closely exposed while fire dancing but it’s actually relatively small exposure during the actual performance compared to amounts of fumes and vapours workers in the trucking or painting industries experience day to day. However the exposure prior and post performance could be of concern.

You see given sufficient oxygen the complete combustion of any hydrocarbon produces just carbon dioxide and water.

Combustion tends to be less complete as the number of carbon atoms in the fuel contents rise, typified by a yellow smoky flame which are carbons left over as the hydrogen bonds to the first available oxygen and the more complex volatile carbons get left over.

Colemans is a mix of compounds with lower numbers of carbon atoms (shorter/lighter) than fuels such as lamp oils or the British ‘paraffins’ (a frustratingly archaic and non specific term) which have more carbon atoms (longer/heavier… keep going heavier and you’ll get to wax).

So Colemans burns relatively efficiently, quiet easily compared to heavier fuels… but it’s not during combustion where I would surmise the danger.

I believe the danger for high exposure is during ‘spinning off’ when you are creating a dense cloud of vapour around yourself, and post show with left over vapours streaming off the hot props, not being burnt away but building up (especially in confined spaces) and being breathed in by the performers and anyone else backstage.

So I advise, no matter the fuel, cover your mouth with a mask or cloth or at the very least hold your breath while spinning off until the vapour dissipates (or avoid that technique altogether, feel free to ask me how) AND when extinguishing a prop keep it wrapped in your wet towel (or wet molleton/duvetyne) until you can get it into a well ventilated area or it has cooled down entirely.

If you want to be careful and professional then I would recommend a look into isoparaffins.

Taking milk thistle extract and alpha lipoic acid semi regularly would also be a reasonable precaution.

P.S. based on my reading and extrapolation of Cirque du Soleil’s results with Passive Organic Vapor Monitors during testing on the Zaia show, I would estimate we’re looking at exposure of 60-90ppm (as hexane) during fire performance, and between 500 up to a max of 1000ppm during spin off or next to hot extinguished props assuming a large indoor space.

The 8-hour Time-Weighted-Average for n-hexane is 500 ppm (1800 mg/m3).

Please credit Dan Miethke & sparkfiredance.com in all reproductions. I am not interesting in retailing fuel (for now) and am concerned for the health of my brothers and sisters so share the above with the best of intent however YMMV and all the above is not to be misconstrued as heath or chemistry advice from a professional!

************ This is a work in progress and will be updated as I collate new information and understandings. *************

Spark Fire Dance

Dan Miethke & Stephanie Höggerl. 24 years of performance in 60 countries worldwide.
Former fire coach, artist and flame effects consultant for Cirque Du Soleil and Franco Dragone.

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