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By Rochelle Lobo

On a cold winter’s night, the dark sky provides a brilliant backdrop for the glittery fireworks for events held all across the globe. From the smallest handheld sparklers to gigantic pyrotechnics, each year the demands for these “visually pleasing, but environmentally toxic” articles are increasing substantially. New Year’s Eve celebrations across the world, 4th of July celebrations in USA, Guy Fawkes Day in the UK and Diwali in India are just a few of the many pollution-filled occasions.


Fireworks are low explosive pyrotechnic devices used for their aesthetically entertaining purposes. They are made by filling combustible material such as pyrotechnic stars into casings or tubes made from paper or cardstock. The use of these pretty pollutants dates far back to 7th century China, where the use of rudimentary fireworks formed a major part of Chinese culture and festivities.

Globally, in addition to cultural festivities, many fireworks competitions are conducted throughout the year. These competitions showcase whose fireworks are bigger, brighter and better. The major downside of these competitions and festivities is that Air, Noise, Water, Flora and Fauna are highly impacted due to artificial luminance of the sky, smoke from combustion, debris, particulates from burnt out fireworks and noise generated during combustion. The combustible material in the fireworks and the paper and paints of the firework packaging and casings also add to the negative effects of these fireworks by polluting water bodies and dispersing into the surrounding air. These pollutants are then spread further due to air and water currents causing impact to the avian and marine life respectively. Especially, during winter the air pollution caused by these fireworks is extreme due to the ‘temperature inversion’ effect. Also, unlit fireworks stored at warehouses/shops are extremely dangerous since a stray spark or flame coming in contact with them could cause a widespread disaster as seen during the Enschede fireworks disaster in Netherlands on 13th May 2000 and more recently, 13th May 2016, in a shop in Southampton, UK.

A few of the poisonous materials used in the manufacture of fireworks is listed below:
Toxic Element Fireworks Usage Toxic Effect of Fallout Dust & Fumes
Aluminum brilliant whites Contact dermatitis, bioaccumulation
Antimony sulfide glitter effects Toxic smoke, possible carcinogen
Arsenic compounds Used as colorants. Sadly still out there. Toxic ash can cause lung cancer, skin irritation and wart formation
Barium Nitrate glittering greens Poisonous. Fumes can irritate respiratory tract. Possible radioactive fallout
Copper compounds blues Polychlorinated dioxins and dibenzofurans. Can bioaccumulate. Cancer risk
Hexachlorobenzene (HCB Use was supposed to be banned globally. Persistent environmental toxin. Is a carcinogen, mutagen and a reproductive hazard
Lead Dioxide / Nitrate / Chloride oxidizer Bioaccumulation, developmental danger for kids & unborn babies, may remain airborne for days, poisonous to plants & animals
Lithium compounds blazing reds Toxic and irritating fumes when burned
Mercury (Mercurous chloride) chlorine donor Toxic heavy metal. Can bioaccumulate.
Nitric oxide fireworks byproduct Toxic by inhalation. Is a free radical
Nitrogen dioxide fireworks byproduct  Highly toxic by inhalation. SIDS risk .
Ozone fireworks byproduct  Greenhouse gas that attacks & irritates lungs
Perchlorate -  Ammonium & Potassium propellant / oxidizer  Can contaminate ground & surface waters, can cause thyroid problems in humans & anim
Potassium Nitrate in black powder  Toxic dusts, carcinogenic sulfur-coal compounds
Strontium compounds blazing reds  Can replace calcium in body. Strontium chloride is slightly toxic.
Sulfur Dioxide gaseous byproduct of sulfur combustion  Acid rain from sulphuric acid affects water sources, vegetation & causes property damage. SIDS risk
Table Source:

Most people consider visually unpleasant objects to cause the most pollution but rarely do they realize the detrimental and toxic nature of fancy fireworks. The question we urgently need to ask ourselves is, ‘Is a few minutes of pretty pyrotechnics worth causing irreparable damage to ourselves and the environment?’ It is far better to let nature enthrall our senses with the astronomical wonders of the night sky than it is to slowly poison ourselves for a pretty fireworks show.


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Viewer: |   Last Updated: 05-01-2019