By Dr Ravindra Khaiwal,Chandigarh : Diwali is the festival of lights and is celebrated in India with great pomp and fervour. Traditionally, Diwali was celebrated by lighting earthen lamps signifying the triumph of good over evil. The present scenario of Diwali is totally different as it marks bursting of crackers and fire works, which add toxins to the already polluted atmosphere. Most people take festivals nowadays as “the louder the noise; greater the thrill” by doing so they often forget that the temporary joy and happiness leads to intense hazardous air as well as noise pollution.
The crackers generally consist of several chemicals such as copper, zinc, lead and magnesium, which are harmful to the human health. Furthermore, while using firecrackers there is always a risk of burn and injury. Smoke from crackers can cause eye irritations and respiratory problems. The noise pollution created by constant bursting of crackers disturbs the peace and can even cause ear damage.
Toxic chemicals and their health effects
|Chemical Health concern|
|Copper : Irritation of respiratory tract|
|Cadmium : Anemia and damage to kidney|
|Lead : Affects the nervous system|
|Magnesium: Its dust and fumes can cause metal fume fever|
|Sodium: Reacts violently with moisture and can attack the skin.|
|Zinc : Leads to vomiting|
|Nitrate: Could lead to mental impairment|
|Nitrite: Could lead to coma|
Firework explosions release wide array of pollutants that are scattered into the ambient air. The colorful explosions and sparkles disappear in seconds releasing the smoke containing pollutant and by-products such as oxides of carbon, sulphur, nitrogen, ammonia, phosphates and other heavy metals in the sky that pollute the air and contaminate ground water. The explosion also results in lifting of fugitive dust in the finest form that can easily enter the lungs. This represents a real threat for people with asthma.
In the past, I studied the impact of firework during a Diwali festival and it was noticed that when many fireworks are traditionally let off, concentrations of sulphur dioxide was found to rise tenfold at a few sites, whereas concentrations of nitrogen oxide, respirable particle and suspended particles increased two to three times compared to normal. Maximum nitrogen dioxide levels lagged the festival by a day. The study also point out that the pollution caused by the fireworks was ‘moderately high’ – but enough to be associated with serious health impacts.
Basically any firecrackers is made up of three main components viz. black powder to ignite; mixtures of chemicals that produce light and color when heated and flash powder to produce sound. The constituents of the above three are given below and to make this Diwali environment-friendly alternative green mixtures –
|Black powder as propellant||Salt-peter (potassium nitrate), charcoal, and sulfur||Nitrogen-rich energetic materials, such as the derivatives of tetrazoles and tetrazines|
|Flash powder as propellant||Potassium chlorate or potassium per chlorate, sulfur, and aluminum||replacing the nasty perchlorates and barium with a strontium nitrate, potassium periodate or sodium periodate instead|
|Oxidizer to supply oxygen.||Potassium or ammonium per chlorate||KIO4 and NaIO4 are introduced as pyrotechnic oxidizers and exhibited excellent pyrotechnic performance.|
|Heavy metals- metal as coloring agents and binders to provide mechanical stability||Aluminum, magnesium, or titanium (white), carbon or iron (orange), sodium compounds (yellow), copper compounds (blue), strontium carbonate (red), and barium mono chloride salts or barium nitrate or barium chlorate (green)||The non-toxic metals strontium, sodium, potassium, rubidium and cesium can produce spectacular reds, oranges, violets, purples and pinks.|
|Sky scrappers||Acetone, ammonium per chlorate, benzoic acid, boric acid, calcium carbonate, xylene, chlorine, alcohol sodium fluoaluminate|
Environmentally friendly substitutes, are suggested to replace the already existing toxic chemicals. The new pyrotechnics formulations that rely on high-nitrogen energetic compounds to make fireworks less harmful to people’s health and the environment should be considered. Pyrotechnics made from high-nitrogen compounds produce less smoke and particulate matter, and also replace perchlorates as oxidizers.
Perchlorate – a commonly used ingredient in explosives in the form of potassium or ammonium perchlorate causes many environmental problems. Further, it can inhibit the thyroid gland’s ability to absorb iodine from the bloodstream in humans, fish and animals.
Additionally, we need to be concerned about the greenhouse gases fireworks produce, which include Carbon dioxide (CO2) and ozone. Fireworks fallout can contaminate water supplies and residue on the ground can be carried away by rain and end up in water bodies causing water pollution.
Central Pollution control committee, Chandigarh reported that on Diwali, the levels of air pollutants including noise pollution increase significantly at several locations. The increase in respirable suspended particulate matter could be associated with asthma and mortality. Further, there is an upward trend of patients with firecracker-related injuries around Diwali in hospitals. Hence, it is high time to think and act on reducing the detrimental indulgence of fireworks on our environment and health.
All accidents/mishaps due to fireworks occur as a result of carelessness, negligence and ignorance. But these can be avoided by observing above listed helpful ways to reduce any potential hazard of fireworks.
|Buy Fireworks from the licensed shop.|
|Buy fire crackers from street vendors.|
|Handle fire crackers carefully. Read and follow the safety precautions issued with the fire works||Carry or throw firecrackers for fun.|
|Keep fireworks in a closed box and away from source of fire||Have flammable materials like wood, electrical cables, fuel, lighted lamps etc. around where you store or light fireworks.|
|When bursting crackers, prefer open spaces like playgrounds and stand back while lighting the crackers. Also make sure that the crackers are at arm’s length|
Keep a couple of buckets of water handy for putting out fires.
|Burst crackers in crowded areas.|
|use a long candle/’phooljhari’ for igniting fire crackers and keep elbow joint straight to increase the distance between the body and the crackers.||Don’t ignite fireworks while holding them.|
|Have an adult accompany children while bursting crackers.||Let your children burst crackers on their own.|
|Wear well-fitting cotton clothes.||Wear long, loose synthetic clothes while lighting crackers. The loose ends can catch fire.|
|Wear shoes or slippers while bursting crackers.||Light crackers bare foot.|
|Put the spent sparklers/ used fieworks in a bucket of water as soon as you’ve used them.Don’t dare to examine un-burst crackers! Light a new one instead||Leave spent sparklers on the ground.|
|In case of burns, splash tap water and repeat the process till the burning sensation reduces and seek medical help.||Ignore a burn injury.|
|Wash the eye with plenty of water then rush the victim to the hospital. Always use spectacles for safety of eyes.||Ignore an eye burn|
Playing safe with firecrackers-
1. Know your fireworks. Read the label before you ignite it. Buy perchlorate free fireworks
2. Use air-launch technology, which utilizes compressed air to launch the fireworks instead of gunpowder, in combination with fireworks with low-gunpowder formulations.
3. Opt for Low-smoke pyrotechnics as they are being tagged as environmentally friendly or “green fireworks”
4. Pay very close attention to where your fireworks are aimed. Avoid homes, garages, dry brush or grass, and anything that might hurt someone or their property
5. Use fire crackers between 6 P.M. and 10 P.M. only
6. Avoid packaging, gift wraps around firecrackers.
Initiatives that could be taken by Government authorities/ or residential welfare societies
Ø switching to an environmentally friendly laser light show
Ø organizing community show at night with some LED’s
Ø Similar to Dushehra, sector wise fireworks can be organised at one common place
Ø Ambulance and fire-brigade services to reach at the earliest without any delay
Ø Look at new ways of manufacturing fireworks that are more environmentally sensitive.
Dr Ravindra Khaiwal, MRSC, FHEA
Assistant Professor of Environment
School of Public Health