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Fireworks Have Hidden Dangers

There are frequent occasions during the year when different countries have reason to celebrate – and often that celebration will take the form of a fireworks display.

However exciting such a display may be, research is now coming forward to point out that toxic chemicals can affect the air quality when fireworks are set off.

In a first-of-a-kind study, scientists at New York University have found common fireworks emit lead, copper and other toxic materials in their smoke, causing damage to both humans and to animals. 

How did the team carry out their research?

The team studied twelve types of commercially available fireworks in the USA.

They found particle emissions (from five of these firework brands) actually damage or even kill human cells.

They also analysed fourteen years of air quality data from sites across the USA, finding that levels of toxic chemicals in the air spiked over Independence Day (the 4th of July) and New Year’s Eve.  Obviously, those are two important dates when firework displays are a traditional part of celebrations. 

How will they use their research?

Professor Terry Gordon (senior researcher) is concerned that there could be worrying health implications.

The team, whose research has been published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology, plans to alert fireworks manufacturers as well as regulatory authorities as to their findings and the dangers. 

Setting off fireworks is not just about how they affect the air quality

  • Fireworks produce light pollution, noise pollution, debris and litter.
  • Gunpowder fuels their flight. Metallic compounds and chemicals color their explosions.
  • If you attend a pyrotechnic display or are just situated downwind of such a display, you can be subjected to high levels of metals. Fireworks get their showy colors, bangs, whistles and more from a variety of chemicals, many of which are toxic to humans.
  • Fireworks often contain carcinogenic or hormone-disrupting substances that can seep into soil and water.
  • Fireworks release lung-clogging smoke and studies have shown that asthma attacks are more likely during a fireworks display. 

And there is more

  • The white color is provided by antimony which can harm your lungs and stomach as well as other organs.
  • The color green in fireworks is provided by barium which has been linked to gastrointestinal tract as well as heart problems. Barium is poisonous and radioactive.
  • Copper compounds are used to produce blue colors, even though they contain dioxin, which has been linked to cancer.
  • Cadmium, lithium, rubidium, strontium, lead and potassium nitrate are also commonly used to produce different effects, even though they can cause a host of respiratory and other health problems.
  • All these chemicals end up on the ground after fireworks displays where they can run off and pollute water sources. Firework displays are often held over large bodies of water where they spray out a toxic concoction that rains down on to lakes, rivers and bays. Many of the chemicals in fireworks are also persistent in the environment where they can sit instead of breaking down, raising concern in many communities that are affected. 

And it is not just fireworks - balloons and lanterns cause problems too

Sadly, releasing balloons can be as bad and as anti-social as littering.  When balloons are released or let go, they end up as trash in pastures, putting livestock at risk or they drop into the ocean, with devastating consequences for the marine life.

Balloons do not bio-degrade in water but instead, they soak up all the water, actually increasing in size. When they end up in the ocean, balloons are often mistaken for jelly fish (in the much the same way as floating plastic bags) by sea turtles and other marine life.  

While some balloons burst, others gradually deflate and fall back to earth where they can have cruel consequences for wildlife.

Sky lanterns may be beautiful but are often a hazard to livestock and can be mistaken for distress flares.  They are actually now banned in many US states as well as in some Asian countries.








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