NEW YORK (PIX11) — Fireworks have been used to celebrate the Fourth of July for more than 200 years.
And while experts say the tradition’s carbon footprint isn’t nearly as troublesome as others, it does cause air pollution that affects the air quality in the tri-state region.
“If you look at the data from the last 20 years and compare it to any other day of the year you can see a difference,” said associate professor at the Columbia Climate School Daniel M. Westervelt, Ph.D. “This is something that has been studied. Though the effects of fireworks are short-term, exposure can cause problems like wheezing and coughing and make sensitive groups sick.”
Most of the chemical makeup of a firework can be found on the periodic table. They are metals such as Potassium, Copper, and Magnesium, which create specific colors or cause certain patterns. However, there are also some elements – Strontium, Barium, and Sulfur – that have negative effects on the environment.
To understand how fireworks negatively affect air quality, experts use the Air Quality Index, which tells us how polluted the air is. If we think of the AQI as a thermometer that runs from 0 to 500, the higher the value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern.
“Though the effects of fireworks are short-lived, we do see an immediate change to our air. The air can be measured to the unhealthy levels that we saw during the Candian wildfires,” said Westervelt, who has over 20 years of experience and serves as air pollution advisor to the U.S. State Department. “If we continuously did fireworks every day, now that would be an issue. But this type of pollution goes away because it dilutes. Since there is minimal risk, people can continue to celebrate with fireworks one day a year.”
Vehicles, powering electrical grids, and air conditioning buildings contribute more to pollution and the carbon foot more than fireworks do, Westervelt added. To have a real impact on climate change, more needs to be done at a government level, the professor said.
The New York City EPA and the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice declined to comment on the impact fireworks have on the air quality.