Tribal Neon Fire Dyes
are a combination of chemical salts that produce coloured fuels suitable for use in fire spinning when combined with denatured alcohol.
Q: Why don't Tribal Neon fire dyes work with Kerosene etc?
A: There are two reasons. Firstly, when petroleum based fuels burn freely in air there is insufficient oxygen for their hydrocarbons to burn up completely. This leaves a lot of unburnt carbon particles in the flame (soot) which glow yellow/white, overpowering any colour coming from the metal atoms. The second reason is that most metal salts are not soluble in petroleum based fuels, so no metal atoms can be delivered to the flame.
Q: In the past I experimented with some of the chemicals used as fireworks ingredients but they didn't colour the flame. Why is this?
A: Pyrotechnic devices usually also contain electron donors and powerful oxidising agents that are used to raise the reaction temperature. Many of the salts used in fireworks need such high flame temperatures before they will show any colour. Even with the alcohol flame the temperature does not get high enough for many metals to emit the rich vibrant colours you see in fireworks.
Q: What's to stop me going out and getting the chemicals and making my own fire dyes?
A: Absolutely nothing. But it took the Medicine Man several weeks to evaluate and test a whole range of formulations before finalising these ones. That means you will spend lots of your time and significant costs to duplicate these dyes. Plus you will have to buy relatively large packages of the chemicals.
Q: Your safety warnings indicate that the materials in Tribal Neon fire dyes are quite toxic. How safe are they to use?
A: Each fire dye contains an optimised blend of various chemicals. All metal salts should be considered to be potentially toxic, especially if you were to ingest them, but so long as you are careful not to do so they could be considered to be relatively safe. The red dye contains an optimised mixture of Lithium and Strontium salts along with organic and inorganic solubilisers and conditioners. Lithium was present in both Coca-Cola and 7-Up until around 1948. There were even beers that proclaimed their use of Lithiated water. Lithium Chloride was even used briefly as a sodium-free substitute for table salt before people experienced unpleasant symptoms as well as cases of toxic effects and even a few deaths. Today Lithium salts are used clinically to control bipolar disorder, and used synergistically with a number of types of antidepressants. The Lithium content of one pack of red Tribal Neon contains 2-3 times the dose clinicians would aim to maintain in an adult, so ingesting a small fraction of this would not be too big a deal, but should still be avoided by careful preparation technique and use. Strontium is chemically very similar to Calcium, and is used fairly widely as a supplement against osteoporosis, particularly in women. Strontium was, and still is, used in many toothpastes (e.g. Sensodyne) to reduce sensitive teeth, which should give you some idea of its relatively low toxicity. Again, the toxicity is in the dose, so preventing ingestion is the principal means of ensuring your safety. The green dye contains salts of Boron and Barium. Boron is an essential mineral, and its salts have been used variously in laundry detergents, as ant bait, and as a mild antiseptic wound wash. Common boron compounds such as borates and boric acid have a low toxicity comparable to table salt. However a small amount of Barium, a heavy metal with similar properties to both Calcium and Strontium is used in the green dye. Barium is toxic by ingestion and also by inhalation of the oxides and carbonates produced on burning. Again however the amounts you are likely to encounter in preparation and use of Tribal Neon dyes are very low and therefore relatively safe. In all cases the same metals are likely to be released in comparable quantities by most fireworks, and nobody thinks to ask the same questions about them, or feels the need to wear metal-fume masks to fireworks displays. All the same, we recommend you use common sense and good technique to avoid skin contact with the powder or the treated fuels, and to always use the fire props outside in the open air, where the dust generated by burning is free to disperse relatively harmlessly.
Q: I have heard that Strontium is radioactive. Is this true?
A: No. While Strontium has four naturally occurring isotopes none of these are radioactive. Strontium 90 was created in atomic weapons tests, and the fallout from these was dangerous because Strontium is taken up by the body like Calcium. Sr90 fallout entered the human food chain via cows milk when atomic test fallout was incorporated into pasture grass. This led to some of the children who consumed the milk contracting leukaemia.
Q: Isn't Methanol toxic? Is this safe to use?
A: Methanol, also known as Methyl Alcohol or Wood Alcohol is toxic, and it is able to be absorbed slightly through the skin, but so long as you do not get too much on your skin you are unlikely to be at significant risk. Again, use common sense when handling all solvents, and that goes for kerosene and other petroleum solvents too. The principal risk from Methanol is from its high flammability and its nearly invisible flame.
Q: How about Ethanol or Denatured Alcohol / Methylated Spirits? Is that safe?
A: Ethanol, also known as Ethyl Alcohol or grain alcohol is toxic, especially when ingested in excess, but I suspect you are already aware of that! Pure Ethanol is 200% proof alcohol and is undrinkable because you will be unable to breathe after taking a mouthful. The fumes from your mouth will cause you to gag involuntarily and you may even black out from lack of air. Trust me, I have seen this happen! Pure methylated spirits / denatured alcohol contains around 5% Methanol to deter people from distilling it to produce a beverage (distillation is unable to separate the two alcohols). Again the principal danger is from the high flammability of Ethanol and its nearly invisible flame.
Q: How do I extinguish an alcohol fire?
A: The simplest way of putting out a small alcohol spillage fire is with a water soaked towel. Always have one on hand for this purpose (sometimes literally!). Any fire bigger than a small spill is a serious problem, and will require proper fire fighting procedure (with which anybody playing with fire props should be familiar!). Water will cool and dilute burning Methanol and Ethanol. When Ethanol is diluted below 50% by volume (100% proof) it will not burn unless the fuel is very hot. Methanol is similar.
Q: Your formulation says it contains Chlorides. I have heard that burning Chlorides produces Phosgene gas, which is a potent chemical warfare agent. Is this correct?
A: Possibly, but again, the issue is more one of whether dangerous quantities of Phosgene are produced - which is unlikely. Fireworks use the same metal salts - many of them as chlorides, and public fireworks displays use far larger quantities, yet nobody gets carried away in a stretcher.
Q: My red dye powder has started to turn into a liquid. What's happened?
A: The red Tribal Neon powder will readily absorb water from the atmosphere until it dissolves. The resealable bag will prevent this so long as you keep it tightly sealed. The result is messy but will not affect its ability to dissolve in the fuel or to make coloured fire. Just transfer it carefully into your fuel, and rinse the bag with a little extra water (or fuel - if you are careful). If the powder has completely liquefied it is possible to drop the open bag directly into the fuel, from where it will dissolve. The label and print will wash off too.
Q: I tipped the powder into the fuel and it didn't all dissolve. What went wrong?
A: Most of the powder should dissolve with a good shaking after a few minutes. If the fuel is cold this will make it less soluble and it may take a while to all dissolve. If it does not dissolve even after a couple of hours standing the fuel may be too "dry" (i.e. little or no water present), and adding a tablespoon or so of distilled water is likely to help. If you regularly have this problem with your fuel you can try dissolving the powder in a small volume of warm water first, then adding this to the fuel. Even if a few crystals remain undissolved after standing for a few hours this is unlikely to significantly reduce the colour of the flame appreciably. If all else fails use a larger volume of fuel. Be very careful if warming the fuel! The alcohol is far more flammable when warm, and it would be very easy to create a serious fire or explosion hazard by heating the fuel directly!
Q: Can I use Tribal Neon fire dyed fuel for fire breathing?
A: Under no circumstances should you put treated fuel or even raw alcohol into your mouth!
Fire-blowing is extremely dangerous even with low-volatility hydrocarbons. With alcohols it is guaranteed to be injurious. With metal containing alcohols it is sheer stupidity! (see comment about drinking high-proof alcohol above)
Q: Can I store treated fuel in metal cans?
A: The salts and acids in Tribal Neon will promote the rapid corrosion and rusting out of many tinned steel cans, making them leak. Use a discarded purple meths bottle if you need something suitable or the approved Home of Poi fuel bottle
Q: Can I store treated fuel in PET soda pop bottles?
A: Generally it is unsafe to store alcohols in any vessel that is not specifically approved to be resistant to pure alcohol. Use a discarded purple meths bottle if you need something suitable.
Q: My flame is still quite yellow and not as coloured as I expected. What's gone wrong?
A: There are three likely causes for this. Your fuel probably contains hydrocarbons or other solvents that are producing soot in the flame, making it luminous (yellow/white). You need a purer grade of alcohol. The other likely cause is salt (common salt - Sodium Chloride) in the fuel. This dyes the flame yellow like a sodium street-light, drowning out the proper red or green colours of the dye. The most likely source of this is the water used by the manufacturer to dilute the fuel (for economy) or the water you used to help dissolve the powder. Again, you need a purer grade of alcohol (or a cleaner bottle). One other potential source of Sodium is from props that are constructed using water based adhesives, many of which contain lots of salt or even competing metal salts.
Q: Why do you warn against using props that are reinforced with glue?
A: If the adhesive used to bind the prop together is soluble in alcohol or water-alcohol solvents it is most likely to fail under the stresses of use. If you use a fire prop or poi set that is constructed without use of adhesives you will also avoid salts contaminating your flame colours. (NB: Home of Poi offers adhesive-free fire poi especially for coloured fire use! eg. Cathedral Fire heads
, 3D Death Stars
Q: Why do I need to use a fresh prop with each coloured fuel? Can I use an old prop if it's clean?
A: It is important for the best results that your prop contains no residue of hydrocarbon fuel or your flame will be too luminous to see the coloured fire clearly. A really clean prop may be OK - or it may disappoint - your call. Once you have used a prop with one colour you should devote it to that colour and not change it. Mixing dyes will spoil the effect, giving muddy indistinct colours, and the residues will remain from previous uses.
Q: What is the red material at the bottom of the red dye bottles? Has the product gone off?
A: This is not a problem. The pH adjustment of this batch was slightly over neutralised, making the red dye insoluble. Dye is added solely to identify the product and plays no part in its fire performance.
Q: You say the flame dyes are corrosive. What does this indicate?
A: The flame dye concentrates are strong solutions of metal salts with solubilising additives. Many metals, including stainless steel, can corrode in strong salt, acid, alkali, or oxidising solutions. Even when they are diluted with alcohol they will readily corrode metal cans etc, so do not store them in metal containers. The solutions come packaged in plastic bottles, and made-up fuels should also be stored in alcohol resistant plastic bottles. Commercial methylated spirits bottles are fine.
Q: What about fabrics? Will they be harmed?
A: Some fabrics may be attacked by the dyes and any spills should be rinsed off quickly with water. Some fabric dyes may also be irreversibly discoloured by the metals present.
Q: What about skin? How dangerous are the dyes to skin?
A: The concentrates are necessarily acidic or alkaline to keep the metals in solution. But they are not so acidic or alkaline that they will burn the skin, nor are the metals so toxic that brief contact would be harmful, but in all cases they should be rinsed off skin with water quickly.
Q: These are amazing! Do you have any other colours yet?
A: We're working on it. Watch this space!
Q: What pack sizes is Tribal Neon available in?
A: The standard retail pack size available is sufficient to make 2 x 1 litre of coloured flame fuel.
Q: Where can I buy Tribal Neon?
A: Tribal Neon is available from www.homeofpoi.com web site only Purchase Tribal Neon Flame Dyes