Fireworks are spectacular and awesome, making any occasion festive, and enjoyed by the public.
Unknown to many, however, fireworks release a host of contaminants that affect air quality and contribute to the ill effects of climate change, including a rise in the amounts of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter.
In addition, fireworks have been linked to air pollution increases, and environmentalists are concerned about their negative effects on the environment, wildlife, and human health.
In the second century BC, historians noted the origins of fireworks in ancient China, when they were made from bamboo stalks and gunpowder that would explode when thrown into a fire, to ward off evil spirits.
The cocktail of chemicals are propelled into the atmosphere, effecting a display of vivid colors which come from metallic compounds such as barium and aluminium, and release pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and heavy metals, which can cause respiratory problems and aggravate asthma as the particles emitted from a fireworks display can damage cells and lungs, spray out a toxic concoction that rains down quietly into lakes, rivers, and bays throughout the country.
The most basic component that all fireworks have is black powder, also known as gunpowder.
When black powder – made from a mixture of 75 percent potassium nitrate, 15 percent charcoal, and 10 percent sulfur – is placed inside a shell, and ignited with a fuse, a loud, gaseous and hot chemical reaction is created, essentially an explosion.
Mineral elements are mixed with black powder, providing color to these explosions. Some colors simply require one element to produce the targeted color.
For example, only strontium is needed to make red, sodium for yellow, and barium for green.
Other colours, such as orange, require a combination of mineral elements which are strontium and sodium, or purple necessitates a mix of strontium and copper.
Additional chemicals, such as carbon, sulfur, aluminium, and manganese, are added to the fireworks, functioning as stabilisers, oxidisers, and extra colours.
Chemicals from fireworks do not just disappear into thin air. When burned and exposed to oxygen, substances undergo a chemical reaction called combustion.
Toxic hazes, also known as particle pollution, are created by particulate matter, a combination of minuscule solid and liquid substances found in the air, and considered the most hazardous air pollutant due to its ability to affect people’s lungs and heart, along with causing environmental damage.
In India recently, air pollution reached toxic levels, with a pungent foam containing high levels of ammonia and phosphates, coinciding with hazardous levels of pollution that have sickened many of New Delhi’s more than 20 million residents, and forced primary schools and some offices to close.
Perhaps the best way to tackle the pollution caused by fireworks is not to encourage these fireworks displays at all.
There are alternatives such as a laser show, use of projectors, shower of confetti, waving of glowsticks, etc.
It’s time for us to apply innovative approaches to reduce the environmental impact of fireworks, so that the public can continue to enjoy the excitement of displays for years to come.
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