The most beautiful pollutant: Do fireworks harm the environment?

Many people have heard about the dangers of fireworks for health, but they are usually associated with accidents caused by improper use of these devices or their manufacturing defects. However, researchers had proved that fireworks should be feared for other more significant reasons. Fireworks are polluting the air, poisoning our lungs and adversely affecting the work of our heart.

The smoke of the fireworks is saturated with small particles of metallic compounds, which make the firework colorful. By the way, the Victorian scientists identified the chemicals by colors they produce during burning in a Bunsen flame: blue – copper, red – strontium or lithium, bright green or white – from barium compounds.

Also, a lot of smoke is formed due to the combination of potassium and aluminum, which is used to launch the firework into the air. As pyrotechnic fuel for fireworks perchlorates also is often used as propellants – a family of highly chemically active chlorine and oxygen compounds, which were also used by NASA to improve the launch of space shuttles off the launch pad.

Experts say that fireworks cause significant air pollution, which was evidenced in many cities around the world. In particular, measurements taken last year in Munich, Germany, on New Year’s Eve showed that the level of harmful substances in the air exceeded almost 27 times the EU recommended daily limit of 50 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter of air. Ecologists also had estimated that within one day, due to fireworks, the country created hazardous emissions equivalent to 15% of all country’s automobile emissions per year. The worst reading came from the center of Munich where levels of particulates reached 1,346 micrograms per cubic meter of air instead of recommended concentration of 50 μg/m3.

Metal particles of the Sant Joan fireworks fiesta (Girona, Spain) hanged in the air for several consecutive days.

During the Diwali celebration, which rituals are connected with fire – as a symbol of the victory of good over evil everywhere fireworks are launched, candles and flashlights are lit – in many India’s cities air pollution reaches hazardous levels each year. Diwali is celebrated in late October – early November. In 2016, in Delhi with a population of about 18.5 million people, massive celebrations led to an ecological disaster: according to the Hindustan Times, the air pollution level on average exceeded the daily recommended norm by 14 times, and in some areas – by 42 times. The permissible level of PM 2.5 in India is 60µg/m³ while PM10 is 100 µg/m³.

This year, India’s supreme court has banned the sale of fireworks and firecrackers in the New Delhi area ahead of Diwali festival, hoping to prevent the usual spike in toxic air pollution levels that accompany the holiday. As the result, the recorded levels of PM2.5 and PM10 violated the corresponding 24-hour safe limits by as much as 10 times, so the air quality was poor but better than in 2016.

On the beginning of December in Beijing officials also banned to use fireworks in the smog-choked Chinese capital to combat air pollution ahead of the festive season.

Researchers have also reported that in the UK, Guy Fawkes day is regularly the most polluted day of the year. While in the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) looked into PM2.5 concentrations on days before and following the celebrations of the Independence Day from 1999 to 2013 and found that particulate levels went up by an average of 42%.

Not only do fireworks pollute the air but also perchlorate can contaminate water when it later settles to earth with rain. Consuming water polluted with perchlorate can interfere with the human body’s ability to absorb iodine into the thyroid gland and can result in thyroid problems.

Due to the increased awareness of firework-related pollution, many environmental organizations in different countries require authorities to ban the use of fireworks by private individuals. Still, the proportion of pollution from fireworks across the world continue to increase.

So, how can you protect yourself from air pollution caused by fireworks during the festive season? Perhaps the best way to solve this problem is to not use them at all. However, if this approach seems rather extreme (not to mention a lot less fun), here are a few tips shared by experts that can help us deal with air pollution:

  • Do not set off fireworks or firecrackers in a fully or partially enclosed spaces
  • Avoid using handheld fireworks known as sparklers
  • Try to keep you away from the place of firework launches, because the harmful materials used in firework can be dispersed by the wind
  • If you decided to attend a firework display, wearing a face mask would be a good idea
  • If you belong to the group of people who are more vulnerable in regards to exposure to air pollution, stay indoors (more information here: http://airis.life/air-pollution-are-you-at-risk/ )
  • Keep your windows shut during the celebration to prevent harmful chemicals from entering your home

Stay healthy, and we wish you all the best in the New Year!

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