Spare a thought for the environment when you’re letting off fireworks during the forthcoming celebrations. Research to be published in the International Journal of Environment and Pollution suggests that smoke from fireworks can raise levels of notorious “PM10″ particles significantly.
Darko Popović and colleagues at environmental consultancy MEIS in Šmarje-Sap, Slovenia, analysed air pollution data from the “Christmas–New Year” period 12/2010–01/2011 from automatic measuring stations across the city of Zagorje. They found that levels of PM10 particles reached an extreme of 300 micrograms per cubic metre of air and coincided with the timings of fireworks displays in different areas. The researchers suggest that this is a serious flip side to enjoying fireworks displays and ask whether regulations should not be put in place to control the time and place of such events to minimise air pollution.
Atmospheric particulate matter, particulates or particulate matter (PM), are minute pieces of solid or droplets of liquid in the Earth’s atmosphere. They can have a natural origin or be anthropogenic. Fine particles from vehicle exhausts and industrial pollution with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres, PM10s, have received particular attention as a health risk. PM10s formed by burning fossil fuels or other organic matter are too small to be filtered by the nose or trapped in mucus and can penetrate deep into the lungs. 10 micrometres is a nominal division used for monitoring purposes and does not preclude the fact that larger particles can also cause health problems nor that much smaller particles PM2.5 and below can not only penetrate the lungs but can reach the gas-exchange surface deep within the air sacs. Particles of less than 100 nanometres in diameter might even cross into the bloodstream.
The World Health Organisation estimates that worldwide the fine particulate air pollution accounts for 3% of mortality from cardiopulmonary disease, about 5% of mortality from lung cancer. Pollution from fireworks may be limited but the particulates may contribute in no small way to some cases of lung disease and ultimately death.
“Firework displays have always been a means of giving visual emphasis to celebrations,” the researchers say, “But we must also ask ourselves whether their use in some really unfavourable weather conditions is excessive and even harmful to health.” They conclude that the issue deserves more attention. “On a national level there should be attempts to find a compromise solution which would enable visual pleasure as well as ensure clean air.”
“Fireworks air pollution in Slovenia” in Int. J. Environ Pollut, 2012, 50, 31-40