JUL 18, 2019 9:40 AM PDT

Just how bad are fireworks for air quality?

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

It’s been two weeks since the establishment of the United States was celebrated by the ritual lighting of colorful explosives. It’s not just July 4th in the United States that utilizes fireworks to this degree. Fireworks are the essence of many holiday, religious, and theme park celebrations worldwide, creating breathtaking aerial displays. 

The American Chemical Society reports that, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, 254 million pounds of fireworks detonated in 2017. Many of us know the safety risks associated with lighting fireworks, but have you ever considered the risks associated with air quality? 

Previous studies on this topic have shown that fireworks cause very high, short-term air pollution, which is certainly visible to the naked eye in some parts of the world. Most of these studies collected air samples over 12- and 24- hour periods after the fireworks display. For professor James Schwab of the Atmospheric Science Research Center at the University of Albany, this information wasn’t detailed enough. His research results were recently published in ACS Earth & Space Chemistry.

To gather real-time air quality data, Schwab and his team collected minute- and hour-averaged air samples from uptown and downtown Albany, New York from June 27th to July 7th, 2017. Large numbers of people gather outdoors to watch the city’s celebratory display on July 4th. Based on measurements of aerosol particles using a high-resolution time-of-flight aerosol mass spectrometer, the team discovered that emissions during the fireworks show were ten times higher than the hourly emissions rate from vehicles in the same area. Fireworks particles contributed to about 77% of the air particulate matter measured at the uptown site. The measurement site was approximately 8 km away from the fireworks launching site.

Additionally, peak levels of submicron particulate matter were eight times higher after the fireworks show. Levels of potassium—which is used as a propellant in fireworks—spiked 350 times the regular rate on the night of July 4th and lingered into the following day. Levels of other organics, nitrate, and sulfate were also elevated following the fireworks display.

More research is needed to determine how these spikes in air pollutants impact human and environmental health.

Sources: ACS, ACS Publications
 

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
NOV 27, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
NOV 27, 2019
New Painkiller More Effective than Opioids Discovered in Mud
Researchers have discovered a new painkiller dubbed to be as effective as opioids, only minus their disadvantages, from a 16-year old mud sample found near...
NOV 29, 2019
Earth & The Environment
NOV 29, 2019
Caribou conservation: is it enough?
Caribou are one of the mystic animals of the Northern hemisphere, large ungulates known for their branched antlers and tales of pulling Santa’s sleig...
DEC 10, 2019
Earth & The Environment
DEC 10, 2019
NOAA Unveils Florida Keys Reef Restoration Program
Earlier this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced "Mission: Iconic Reefs"—a new strategy to restore a...
JAN 04, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 04, 2020
La Niña is associated with higher incidence of life-threatening diarrhea
Findings published recently in the journal Nature Communications suggest that La Niña climate conditions are linked to an increase in the incidence ...
JAN 20, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 20, 2020
Horned Lizards Do Anything to Protect Their Eggs From Predators
When a female horned lizard lays her eggs, she finds herself up against several predators that want to devour them. Fortunately, the female horned lizard d...
FEB 11, 2020
Earth & The Environment
FEB 11, 2020
The mark of a contrail on the atmosphere
Do you know what an airplane contrail is? Have you ever looked up into the sky with that azure blue backdrop and seen the elegant white tail slowly evapora...
Loading Comments...