Posted by: pyeager | July 5, 2009

Fireworks and Air Pollution

I’ve often thought about how much pollution fireworks produce, so I thought I’d talk about that today.

Firework Technology–Unchanged in Centuries

While the physics of getting different colors and shapes, along with timing explosions and coordinating them with music through the use of computers, has changed incredibly over the last couple of decades, the explosives inside of fireworks have not changed in centuries. It’s still old, dirty black gun powder, and when it explodes, it’s filthy and smoky.

Weather Affects Air Quality

When the atmosphere is stagnant, typically indicated by haze and reduced visibility in the summer, fireworks result in a thick, smoky fog–often to the point that the fireworks are not clearly visible from any distance whatsoever.

When fireworks displays occur when the air mass is more mixed (usually indicated by good visibility, a breeze, and low humidity), the smoke and debris related to fireworks dissipates quickly (or at least blows away)–as it did in my local area this year. Of course,  just because the pollutants don’t accumulate immediately and interfere with the on-going fireworks display doesn’t meant that the pollutants cannot harm the environment.

Pollutants in Fireworks

I know as much about the chemicals inside of a firework and the black powder that explodes it as a I do about conducting open heart surgery, so I will refer you to another Web site for more information:  Fireworks: Cheap Thrills with Toxic Consequences. I am not endorsing the information on the site, but based on the sources, it seems to have fairly reliable information.

The following image is from the Web site linked above:

Fireworks Pollution

Fireworks Pollution

Worse Air Quality Index on July 5

Pacific Northwest weather blog Cliff Mass published an interesting post indicating a worse air quality rating on July 5 than July 4 for the Seattle area (Firework Pollution–And A Major Change), theorizing that it’s related to fireworks. He’s noticed this increase on July 5 of other years as well.

I’ll need to do further research to see if this is a national trend.


  1. Soil is a sort of ecosystem unto itself, and it is relatively sensitive to foreign matter being applied to it. That’s good for us in the case of wanting to add soil amendments, fertilizer and compost to make the soil healthier, but not so good when it comes to soil pollution.

  2. I read they tested a lake after a huge fireworks show for heavy metals found in these fireworks, and they found non that caused concerns.

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