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Fireworks have an alarming impact on air quality, but drone light shows don't

Hooray for fireworks, right? The allure of the night sky lighting up in vivid colors is second to none, especially during prominent celebrations such as the 4th of July. Yet, this awe-inspiring spectacle comes with underlying risks we often ignore: the invisible threat lurking in the air that we breathe.

Fireworks and air pollution

In a recent study headed by Greg Carling, a geology professor at Brigham Young University (BYU), the hidden danger associated with fireworks was brought to light.

The study cast a spotlight on the harmful particulate matter that is unleashed into the air during firework displays.

“We know we’re breathing in these particles that are unhealthy during firework events, dust storms, or winter inversions,” said Carling. “But what’s actually in the particulate matter? No one really knew before this study.”

Particulate matter

Let’s take a moment to understand particulate matter. It consists of tiny fragments of dust, metals, smoke, liquid droplets, and other pollutants.

These particles, especially PM2.5, are incredibly small and can be inhaled deeply into our lungs.

Fireworks significantly contribute to these particles, releasing harmful substances like barium and copper during summer displays, and arsenic, cadmium, lead, and thallium in winter smog.

“We know a bit about the acute problems that elements such as lead cause,” said Carling.

“But then there are the chronic problems we don’t know about, and that probably should make people think, “Oh, so what’s actually harmful and how do we figure out what’s harmful?'”

Fireworks: Annual air quality hazard?

According to Carling’s research, fireworks are one of the main contributors to particulate matter along the Wasatch Front, along with mineral dust and winter inversion.

But what sets firework displays apart? It’s their timing. Major firework events fall in July – a time when the pollution levels peak due to these displays.

Carling’s team took a two-year-long deep dive into figuring out the contents of these particles. They used air samplers equipped with filters to capture and analyze various sizes of particulate matter. The results were intriguing and, indeed, alarming.

Trace metals in the air after fireworks

Increased levels of metals like barium and copper were found during summer fireworks, while arsenic, cadmium, lead, and thallium were more prevalent in winter smog.

These findings are concerning because prolonged exposure to these substances has been linked with serious health complications. Inhaling these particles over time can lead to respiratory issues like asthma.

Moreover, the presence of heavy metals in the air we breathe has been associated with more severe health problems, including heart diseases.

The persistent nature of these particles means they can migrate from the atmosphere into soil, water, and even our food, creating a continuous cycle of exposure.

This underscores the importance of rethinking how we celebrate with fireworks. Not exactly the kind of festive souvenir you would want, right?

Current air quality standards

Despite having stringent water standards, Utah, where this study was conducted, does not have similar air quality standards for these metals.

Carling points out that both the acute and chronic impacts of these elements should be studied further for adequate protective measures.

These particles are not only harmful but are also persistent. Metals have a knack for migrating from the atmosphere into soil, water, and even our food.

Carling suggests that watching city firework shows instead of setting off personal displays can reduce pollution. By limiting individual fireworks, we can decrease the release of harmful particles into the air.

Additionally, he advises doing indoor workouts during times of poor air quality. This helps limit inhalation of toxins and protects our lungs from harmful pollutants.

These simple changes can make a significant difference. By making more responsible choices, we can enjoy celebrations while also safeguarding our health and the environment.

Let’s consider these recommendations to ensure cleaner air and healthier lives for everyone.

Fireworks, air quality, and the future

“It’s great when research leads toward legislation that can help improve things,” stated Carling. “Sometimes it’s just a paper that gets published and a few scientists read it. But other times, it gets picked up and used to create real solutions.”

With the evidence laid bare, it’s imperative to rethink our traditions in light of their impact on our health and environment – all that glitters is not gold, right?

So the next time you marvel at a fireworks display, remember the invisible particles that tag along. It’s time to consider cleaner and safer alternatives. Who knows? The solution might already be waiting to happen.

The study is published in the journal Applied Geochemistry.


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