Each year we celebrate our national birthday with colorful bursts of black powder – fireworks which ignite around American neighborhoods on the Fourth of July.
These pyrotechnical displays provide brilliant light shows each Independence Day, but they also cause spikes in air pollution levels that may be hazardous to the health of some individuals. The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) has noticed elevated levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution at many of its monitoring stations during previous Independence Days. In some cases, levels at the monitoring sites reached Moderate Air Quality for more than a full day after the Fourth.
The smoke from fireworks displays generally dissipates within a few hours, but individuals with asthma or other respiratory conditions may be impacted during that time.
ORCAA acknowledges that fireworks are a source of air pollution, but does not advocate a ban on the devices. Rather, ORCAA seeks to ensure people are aware of the potential health risk posed by exposure to the pollution from these devices.
To minimize impacts from fireworks pollution, individuals should reduce or eliminate their use of personal fireworks – these tend to concentrate their smoke near ground level. Instead, residents may attend community-sponsored aerial fireworks displays. These create pollution as well, but generally much higher above the ground where it can dissipate more completely before reaching people at ground level.
Folks who do set up fireworks on their own should keep the devices well clear of buildings and combustible materials (including vegetation). Besides the health risks from the air emissions of fireworks, the devices also pose serious fire-safety risks. They must also be careful when disposing of the debris afterwards. After dousing the paper and plastic with water (to reduce risks of fire), the waste material should be disposed of with your garbage. The waste should never be burned – not only does state law prohibit burning the material, but the colorful wrappings contain chemicals that could release additional dangerous toxics into the air if burned.
Of particular concern are illegal fireworks manufactured outside the United States as they frequently contain lead (lead is banned in fireworks production in the U.S.).
ORCAA encourages all residents to have a fun, but safe and healthful, Fourth of July Holiday.