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Study: Fireworks Release Particles That Can Impact Health

Jan. 21, 2020
Particulate matter (PM) concentration is one of the top global health concerns.

A new study published in the journal Atmospheric Research examines the effects of fireworks on health.

Researchers discovered large displays at celebrations for Independence Day in the United States,  Australia Day, China’s Lunar New Year generate air pollutants with "significant" impact on air quality and the environment. 

"While sources of particulate matter such as power plants and vehicles are of concern, events with fireworks and bonfires can increase ambient PM levels and lead to short-term adverse effects on air quality, visibility, and human health," stated author Dr. Ajit Singh, from the University of Birmingham.

Eight times the average of particulate matter (PM) concentration is generated during and immediately after fireworks displays, with concentrations generally returning to background levels within 24 hours.

In the short-term, exposure to fireworks-related PM can lead to a worsening of respiratory illnesses, including asthma. PM and gases emitted from fireworks also trigger cardiovascular diseases and reduce lung function.

PM is among the top global environmental health concerns and nearly three million people died from exposure to PM2.5 in 2017, according to researchers. Children, elderly people and those with pre-existing health conditions are particularly vulnerable to health effects associated with exposure to firework-related emissions.

“The high loading of PM generated by combustion of fireworks can lead to visibility loss up to 10–92%," co-author Professor Francis Pope, from the University of Birmingham, stated. "However, fireworks events are held at different times of the year, that’s to say in different seasons. Due to prevalent meteorological conditions, it can be difficult to make generalizations regarding underlying atmospheric processes that cause visibility reduction.”

The researchers found that fireworks displays combined with certain weather conditions also influence the extent of people’s exposure to PM. Many firework-related festivals and events take place during autumn and winter when temperatures and wind speeds are typically low.

This timing can encourage the build-up of pollution through low boundary layer heights and low horizontal dispersion. When used at ground level, people can also get directly exposed to metallic fumes released from handheld fire-crackers, such as sparklers.

The researchers drew a number of conclusions – creating a ‘toolkit’ for suggestions and future research –after studying available research and evidence in the field, including:

  • Air quality alerts ahead of fireworks events could help ensure that exposure is minimized, especially for vulnerable people.
  • Field measurements of firework events should aim to collect data before, during and after the event and detailed meteorological data should also be collected.
  • Global satellite measurements during firework events could help to understand variations in pollutant concentrations related to firework events.
  • Future studies should focus on characterization of health effects associated with acute exposure to air pollutants during fireworks events.
  • Further analysis on the toxicity of fireworks-related particles could also help to improve understanding of the health impacts.
  • Studies to understand the impact of the policy on air quality during fireworks events will help to regulate fireworks-related emissions.

University of Birmingham researchers and the Health Effects Institute in Boston collaborated on the study.

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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