Firecrackers and Air Pollution

As we get into the festive season, one of the questions is- how many firecrackers will we use, and how will that impact air quality, visibility and health? Across the world, people use firecrackers to celebrate- Diwali, Vishu etc. in India, New Year in China and other countries, Independence Day in USA etc. In India, in fact, people burst firecrackers when we win a cricket match, or at a wedding and many other occasions and each time, we expose ourselves to clouds of toxic smoke and dust in the form of firecrackers and others to air pollution.

Air pollutants from fireworks typically consist of PM, black carbon (BC), sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). On average, studies report that fireworks use can increase air pollution by 2 to 8 times higher than normal. Concentrations tend to be the highest during use of firecrackers and immediately afterwards. Importantly, concentrations go back to usual levels typically within 24-48 h.

Here is what happened in India over the past few years during the Diwali season:

On Diwali night, India gasped for breath
Day After Diwali, Toxic Smog Over 41 Indian Cities
Fact check: Was Delhi’s post-Diwali air pollution this time the lowest in the last five years?
Delhi’s post-Diwali air may be less smoggy, but residents have ensured it remains toxic
Diwali night in Delhi: 20 times more polluted, effect hangs in air
Diwali: Delhi pollution ‘hits hazardous levels’

What has research shown? 

Studies have been conducted in many cities across India including Delhi (Sati and Mohan, 2014 , Mandal et al., 2012 , Tiwari et a., 2012 , Sarkar et al., 2010), Hisar (Ravindra et al., 2003), Lucknow (Barman et al., 2008), Kolkata (Chatterjee et al., 2013), Jaipur (Prakash et al., 2013), Rajnandgaon (Ambade and Ghosh, 2013), Agra (Pachauri et al., 2013), Rajim (Nirmalkar et al., 2013), Hyderabad (Yerramsetti et al., 2013) and Nagpur (Rao et al., 2012). Everyone seems to agree that air pollution levels increase significantly on Diwali, and a majority of this increase is due to firecrackers.

Here is what some of the scientists concluded:

“Overall, we conclude that the festival of Diwali adds significantly to the existing pollution problem in Delhi, albeit for a short period of time.” (Sarkar et al., 2010)  Link to Paper 

Why is it so bad? 

Research has shown that concentrations of toxic metals (e.g. copper, barium, zinc, strontium,  increase several fold due to combustion of firecrackers (Moreno et al., 2013) and exposure to these metals is associated with severe health effects (Chen and Lippmann, 2009 , Godri et al., 2010).

“There is clearly emerging evidence that the inhalation of some metals in ambient air PM is associated with adverse health effects at concentrations near or not much higher than current ambient levels.”  (Chen and Lippmann, 2009)

Exposure to very high particulate matter (particles in the air) and gases (nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide) can cause skin irritation, a sensation of burning eyes and respiratory illnesses in the short-term, and last year, this was reported in the weeks following Diwali:

Surge in respiratory infections post Diwali

High concentrations of particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5) can also impair visibility, and we saw evidence of that in Delhi.

After-effect: Diwali pollution leads to thick smog in capital 

” The Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport Met office attributed the low visibility to pollutants released in the air following burning of crackers in Diwali.” 

Let us all pledge to not use firecrackers, and help keep the air clean and healthy. 

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