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The Environmental Impact of Fireworks

Across cultures and centuries, fireworks have always been at the center of celebrations of all kinds. Whether marking monumental occasions like Independence Day or personal moments of joy, they evoke a sense of wonder and shared experience. However, their impact on the environment is not negligible.


The chemical composition of fireworks is the root cause of their environmental impact. Each explosion releases pollutants that linger in the air and settle on land and water. Tiny particles called PM2.5, with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers penetrate human lungs, increasing the risk of respiratory illnesses like asthma and heart disease. A single large firework display can increase local PM2.5 levels by 42%, exceeding recommended limits for days and impacting the health of thousands. In 2017, after Diwali, there were 900 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air in an hour in Delhi -  exceeding the WHO air quality guidelines of 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air per year.


Moreover, fireworks release harmful gasses like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, contributing to smog formation and respiratory problems. This impacts humans and the Earth since it leads to trapping heat in the atmosphere. A single fireworks show can emit as much CO2 as several thousand car journeys, and studies show that the US emits 60,340 tons of carbon dioxide due to fireworks use annually.


Beyond air pollution, fireworks unleash a ripple effect on fragile ecosystems. The loud noises, reaching 150 decibels or higher, can be deafening for wildlife. Birds abandon their nests, leaving fledglings exposed and vulnerable, while mammals experience panic attacks, fleeing their habitats and risking injury. Research suggests that even invertebrates like earthworms are negatively affected, showing changes in behavior and movement patterns after fireworks displays.


The chemical residue from fireworks doesn't immediately vanish either. Perchlorates, often used as oxidizers, contaminate soil and water bodies. These chemicals disrupt hormone function in animals and accumulate in fish, impacting human health throughout the food chain. A 2022 study by the United States Geological Survey found perchlorates exceeding safe drinking water standards in multiple waterways after major fireworks displays. Additionally, firework debris, including casings and plastic components, litter the environment and pose a threat to wildlife entanglement and ingestion.


While highlighting the environmental impact is crucial, it's equally important to acknowledge the cultural significance and emotional connection people have with fireworks. For many, they represent tradition, celebration and shared experiences. From the displays of national holidays to sparklers enjoyed by families, fireworks are a key part of many people’s fond memories. A 2021 survey by The Office for Product Safety and Standards at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the UK found that 61% of individuals surveyed enjoy fireworks. Holidays such as the Fourth of July, New Year’s and Diwali feature them at the heart of their celebrations.

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2 Comments


Great piece Nirati! I never would have thought fireworks would be so dangerous. It is safe to say that we should think twice before lighting up fireworks in the woods even though they are enjoyed by many.

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This is very interesting and seems to put regulators in a difficult position since fireworks are so popular

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