Biology in the News Explained

Fireworks Pollution

The paper below is no surprise. It’s basically saying that burning fireworks creates all types of nasty toxins. The human health component of this I think is fairly well known, at least to anyone who has been in China or Hawai`i during Chinese holidays. The one New Year I was in Hawaii I spent partially in Honolulu and partially back home on Kaua`i. Fireworks started going on Dec. 30, and by the time I flew home on the 31st, two apartments had already burned down and it wasn’t even dark yet. I lived in a fairly rural subdivision on former pineapple fields on Kaua`i, and the air was hardly breathable that night in my house, despite the fact that I set off no fireworks of my own.

State officials were trying to rein it in by the time I left Hawai`i in 2001. There were supposedly a lot more restrictions on fireworks use, which turns out to be a good thing not only for the asthma sufferers, but for the population at large. This paper makes me wonder for the first time what the toxins released from these celebrations a couple times a year (the other biggie is Chinese New Year; July 4th in Hawai`i is not nearly such a big event) are doing to the watershed. I guess on the bright side, the fireworks are pretty much limited to low elevations where there are almost no native species left anyway, so perhaps that’s why I have not heard of it referred to as a major conservation issue…

Ying Wang; Guoshun Zhuang; Chang Xu; Zhisheng An, 2007. The air pollution caused by the burning of fireworks during the lantern festival in Beijing. Atmospheric Environment 41:417-431.

The effects of the burning of fireworks on air quality in Beijing was firstly assessed from the ambient concentrations of various air pollutants (SO2, NO2, PM2.5, PM10 and chemical components in the particles) during the lantern festival in 2006. Eighteen ions, 20 elements, and black carbon were measured in PM2.5 and PM10, and the levels of organic carbon could be well estimated from the concentrations of dicarboxylic acids. Primary components of Ba, K, Sr, Cl-, Pb, Mg and secondary components of C5H6O42-, C3H2O42-, C2O42-, C4H4O42-, SO42-, NO3- were over five times higher in the lantern days than in the normal days. The firework particles were acidic and of inorganic matter mostly with less amounts of secondary components. Primary aerosols from the burning of fireworks were mainly in the fine mode, while secondary formation of acidic anions mainly took place on the coarse particles. Nitrate was mainly formed through homogeneous gas-phase reactions of NO2, while sulfate was largely from heterogeneous catalytic transformations of SO2. Fe could catalyze the formation of nitrate through the reaction of alpha-Fe2O3 with HNO3, while in the formation of sulfate, Fe is not only the catalyst, but also the oxidant. A simple method using the concentration of potassium and a modified method using the ratio of Mg/Al have been developed to quantify the source contribution of fireworks. It was found that over 90% of the total mineral aerosol and 98% of Pb, 43% of total carbon, 28% of Zn, 8% of NO3-, and 3% of SO42- in PM2.5 were from the emissions of fireworks on the lantern night.

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