4th of July Fireworks may increase air quality and wildfire fears

The American practice of setting off fireworks on July 4th dates back to the first Independence Day celebration in Philadelphia in 1777. Today, it’s a beloved tradition that seems nearly impossible to replace.

But with concerns about air quality, wildfires, and supply chains, some cities are doing just that.

This year, Salt Lake City is replacing its fireworks with synchronized dancing drone displays to avoid worsening air quality and igniting more wildfires. Boulder, Colorado is turning to drones, too, and Minneapolis is opting for lasers, simply because these technologies have been easier to come by than pyrotechnics in recent years.

And while wildfire smoke from Canada again blanketed much of the United States last week, New York City officials debated whether to set off fireworks on the fourth day, but as of Monday night, they haven’t been cancelled.

Across the border, Montreal canceled fireworks on July 1 for Canada, citing poor air quality from more than 100 wildfires burning across Quebec.

said Grace T. Lewis, an epidemiologist at Environmental Defense Fund He specializes in air pollution and public health.

Fireworks cause a spike in a form of air pollution called particulate matter, the same type of pollution from wildfire smoke. Although there isn’t much research on the dangers of fireworks specifically, particles less than 2.5 microns wide (about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair) are known to enter people’s lungs and bloodstream and cause breathing problems and infections. Dr. T. Lewis said children, the elderly, and those with existing health conditions such as asthma and chronic heart disease should take special care.

Recommended to “watch it from afar”. “The closer you are, the more you will be exposed to particulate matter.”

Dr. T. Lewis added that since the spread of the Corona virus, more people have become more vulnerable to air pollution, especially people who suffer from long-term Covid disease or heart complications as a result of their infection. For those determined to get their fireworks fix, she said, wearing the same N95 face masks that protect against the virus is one way to protect yourself from smoke and air pollution.

On July 4 and 5, levels of fine particulate matter across the country rose 42 percent on average, according to the 2015 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Combined with the fireworks party, particulate pollution can go up as much as 370 percent.

These levels often exceed what the EPA allows for daily outdoor air quality, but local, state, and tribal governments are generally allowed to report one-off events such as fireworks, as well as wildfires, as “extraordinary events” and avoid formally violating national air standards. .

He said other countries see a similar rise in air pollution during their major holidays Diane Seidlauthor of the 2015 study and retired NOAA climatologist.

Background air pollution from wildfire smoke is definitely something cities should keep in mind when planning fireworks or alternative celebrations such as drone displays, said Dr. Seidel. “Maybe there are ways not to be spoiled at the party,” she said, “but still have something pretty in the sky to look at, and not make a huge amount of pollution.”

In addition to air pollution, fireworks come with other dangers. Dogs and other household pets are known to hate July 4th, and many humane societies and animal shelters are preparing for an influx of lost or runaway pets after the holiday. Fireworks lead to problems for wild animals, too. a Study 2022 It was found from the wild geese of Europe that during the crucial rest periods in their long migrations, many birds abandoned their sleeping quarters on New Year’s Eve.

In 2022, Americans suffered an estimated 10,200 firework-related injuries and 11 reported deaths, according to US Consumer Product Safety Authority. Many injuries were caused by small firecrackers and sparklers set off by people at home, rather than during large public or commercial performances.

But the adrenaline rush of sparks, whistles, thrusts and a little bit of danger, socially acceptable for a day, is exactly why so many people love fireworks. Even Dr. T. Lewis said her children set off small fireworks on July 4th at their grandparents’ home, where they are legally allowed to do so.

She and Dr. Seidel don’t want to stop the holiday celebrations. They simply urge caution, and for people to consider alternatives.

In the end, holiday fireworks only result in two days of particularly visible air pollution. Across the country and around the world, communities deal with less clear but still unhealthy air daily or seasonally from things like vehicle traffic, industrial pollution, and wildfires.

This year, the EPA Proposal Strengthening air quality standards for fine particulate matter to better protect public health, but said it still allows special attention for “extraordinary events”.