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Are fireworks bad for air quality?

Fireworks are a big part of many holiday celebrations, a rare and beautiful sight signaling the celebration of a special day. However, they can be responsible for many environmental, and health related issues.

Do fireworks cause bad air quality?

Fireworks are basically explosions of chemicals in solid form. Millions of combustion particles, chemicals and gases are released into the air during these splashes of color on the sky, many are also blown around for miles in atmospheric wind currents, causing the chemical levels to rise 1,000 times the norm.

Fireworks generate huge concentrations of pollutants from various chemicals that dictate its size, color, or loudness. The most notable fireworks pollutant, particulate matter (PM).

  • PM10: coarse particles ranging from 2.5–10 microns in diameter, such as dust, mold, and pollen 
  • PM2.5: fine particles ranging from 0.3–2.5 microns in diameter, such as those created from combustion in vehicle engines or factory emissions
  • Ultrafine particles (UFPs): tiny particles smaller than 0.3 microns in diameter – UFPs make up over 90% of all airborne particle pollution and are by far the most dangerous PM pollutant
  • Black powder: Also known as gunpowder, black powder is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate. It is responsible for propelling the fireworks into the sky and exploding after a delay.
  • Colorants: Firework gets its color from heating up various chemical compounds, each responsible for a different color. The chemicals included can range from strontium, lithium, barium, chlorine, copper, etc.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): airborne vapor or gaseous compounds responsible for odors that are produced by chemical reactions in combustion, manufacturing, or industrial processes.

Does fireworks air pollution cause health problems?

Even though your fireworks seem concentrated locally, air pollution can travel and spread bad air quality out to surrounding areas, making the effects of air pollution more severe even in regions that have never seen a fireworks show. Also, you might thought that firework pollutants only cause problems to those with underlying respiratory condition or chemical sensitivity, but fireworks are harmful even if you don’t have any existing respiratory issues, including:

  • headaches
  • anxiety from nervous system effects
  • sore or swollen throat
  • airway inflammation
  • laryngitis
  • having trouble breathing
  • high blood pressure
  • irregular heartbeat
  • reduced lung function
  • pneumonia
  • heart attacks

How do I protect myself from fireworks air pollution?

Here are some steps you can try that can reduce the air pollution caused by fireworks:

  • Use safe alternatives to traditional fireworks. Some of the world's biggest buyers of fireworks, such as the Walt Disney Company, have received thousands of complaints about air pollution caused by their infamously theatrical nighttime shows at their theme parks. In response to these complaints, Disney has introduced fireworks that use compressed air instead of gunpowder. Many cities and countries have started to use more environmentally friendly replacements, that not only help reduce air pollution, but also create a more personal experience of your own choosing.
  • Shut your windows and doors. If you’re at home and live close to an area that has regular fireworks shows, close windows, doors, and any other openings in your home right before the fireworks start. Don’t open them again for a few hours, as fireworks pollution can linger and travel many miles for hours after the show ends.
  • Purify your indoor air. Airborne pollutants from fireworks shows can still seep into your home even with everything closed up, and will stick around for awhile afterwards. Air filters will capture any particulate and gas pollution that gets into your home, while delivering fresh air into your indoor environment, and keeping your indoor air quality levels safe for your family.

The good thing about fireworks is that they're usually temporary and can be easily avoided if you know the right choices.


Source: IQAir