As we take part in all our seasonal favourites this time of year, celebrating bonfire night and Diwali are keen favourites for many. Although an autumnal classic, unfortunately fireworks can be a contributor to worsening air pollution.
Fireworks are another cause of air pollution and not the most rewarding for the environment as they introduce a range of chemicals into the air, including colourants and metals such as lead, copper and aluminium which can have effects human and animal health. It’s also been suggested in studies at NYU Langone that smoke from fireworks can have long term effects on us and are more toxic than the pollutants we breathe in daily.
Fireworks also release metal salts into the environment, making them an air pollution nightmare. The smoke created by fireworks is another contributor to air pollution and when fireworks are set off – particulate matter is released – which can be harmful to individuals when inhaled.
Fireworks usually go hand-in-hand with a bonfire. A popular choice in the autumn months, be it at a public event or in the back garden, bonfires and open lit fires can emit amounts of carbon monoxide into the environment which are harmful when breathed in.
Emissions from bonfires also include particulate matter PM 2.5 (less than 2.5m in diameter), which are very fine particles that can be harmful when breathed in.
Fear not, steps can be taken to stay as safe and environmentally friendly as possible when celebrating:
1. VISIT A PUBLIC DISPLAY
By attending a public display within your local community rather than personal ones, you can help to reduce the amount of firework and bonfire smoke emitted into the environment. By doing so, air pollution is reduced whilst still enjoying festivities.
2. ECO-FRIENDLY FIREWORKS
If a public display isn’t quite for you, to ensure your contribution to air pollution is minimised, you can opt for the less commonly known eco-friendly bonfire night products. Noise pollution produced from fireworks is a continuing issue with a noticed impact on wildlife and human health. Low noise fireworks are becoming increasingly available on the market and there is an increase in low noise fireworks being used in public displays – helping to protect the environment and wildlife.
More eco-friendly versions of sparklers are on the market, made from wood as an alternative to burning a hot wire.
Although not as prominent on the market, ‘eco-friendly fireworks’ do exist. However, research suggests that although eco-friendly fireworks do produce a smaller, shorter lasting cloud of smoke, the peak concentration of PM2.5 exceeds WHO’s air quality guidelines. Eco-friendly fireworks aren’t a long term solution at present and there’s still a way to go towards a completely eco-friendly bonfire night.
3. KNOW WHAT YOU BURN
Burning wood produces PM 2.5 which is a risk to human health when inhaled into the lungs. It’s best to keep your distance from bonfires and avoid being exposed for too long. The World Health Organisation (WHO) have recommended guidelines for lengths of exposure to PM 2.5.
It’s best practice to choose to burn dry, seasoned wood, as it produces less smoke and reduces hazardous chemicals being emitted into the environment. Although burning wood isn’t beneficial to the environment – making better choices when it comes to wood can minimise the harmful effects. The recommended woods to burn include ash, beech, and oak.
It’s also essential to avoid burning household waste on a bonfire or open-lit fire. The emissions are a large contributor to air pollution and can result in a potential fine.
4. MASK UP
To take extra precaution, PM2.5 filter masks are available. The masks come with a cloth pocket with replaceable activated carbon filter inserts. These masks, designed to protect from air pollution, are more effective when fitted correctly and made from high quality materials. It is important to note there is minimal research on these masks, however, they are useful to reduce exposure to particulate matter.
The use of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is already common within the construction industry and in workplaces where processes involve creating large amounts of dust in the environment. Often fine dust particles in the air go unnoticed due to the lack of visibility. Occupational exposure monitoring often takes place in workplaces prone to dust exposure to ensure workers aren’t over exposed and have necessary protection in place.
5. stay indoors if you need to
If you have respiratory illnesses including; asthma, lung disease or COPD. It’s best advice to avoid attending bonfire events or being in proximity to them – as the particulate and smoke emitted from the fire can trigger symptoms. It’s best to keep your distance from open fires and avoid over-exposure.
6. don’t outstay your welcome
Attending firework events are still an enjoyable option, to ensure you stay safe, try to keep your distance from bonfires and open-lit fires and ensure you don’t have too much exposure. Even a relatively short amount of time can be harmful – enjoy fires in moderation and protect your health.
Air Quality standards define the recommended guidelines for levels of pollutants that can be in the air without harming human health. This year the WHO updated their air quality guidelines, the annual exposure limit to pm2.5 is 5 µg/m3, and the 24 hour exposure limit is 15 µg/m3 .
Research undertaken in 2018 found that bonfire night caused air pollution levels to be massively exceeding the recommended exposure limit. The study identified exposure limit of PM2.5 peaked at 80 µg/m3, highlighting the effects bonfire night can have on the environment.
Although bonfire night isn’t yet and might never be an eco-friendly celebration, these steps can be taken to choose more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives for the big night.
These small changes can lessen the effects of air pollution and have an impact on reducing your carbon footprint.