Case Study: The Impact of Fireworks on Air Pollution

  • Topic: Fireworks air quality 
  • Industry: Air Quality, Air Quality Technology, Community Development 
  • Author: Adrian Dybwad 
  • Website: 

Can you smell the smoke and metal in the air?  

From Diwali to Halloween, fireworks often accompany big celebrations. While these pyrotechnics create a dazzling spectacle, they also produce dangerous levels of air pollution. Fireworks release harmful pollutants, including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and other air pollutants. And unlike the flashy show of lights that only lasts a few minutes, these air pollutants remain in the atmosphere for days to weeks.   

Worse, the impact of air pollution from fireworks on human health can last an entire lifetime. That’s because pollutants like particulate matter can cause lung and heart diseases, immune disorders, and cancer even when exposed for short periods.  

Because of this, governments, communities, and institutions are looking for ways to mitigate air pollution caused by fireworks. Today, we’ll discuss the impact of fireworks on air quality and human health. Plus, we’ll tackle how individuals and groups are innovatively solving this problem. 

How Do Fireworks Pollute the Air? 

Fireworks work through a series of chemical reactions that release metallic elements into the air, allowing them to create the light shows we enjoy. As such, elements like lead, copper, magnesium, and strontium stay in the atmosphere, causing high levels of air pollution.  

And that’s not all.  

Fireworks also emit harmful air pollutants in the process, including: 

  • Sulfur dioxide 
  • Nitrogen dioxide 
  • Nitric oxide 
  • Total suspended particulate matter (TSP)
  • Coarse particulate matter (PM10) 
  • Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) 
  • Ultrafine particulate matter (PM1) 
  • Volatile aromatic compounds (BTEX) 

According to a study, outdoor air pollution caused by Fourth of July fireworks can exceed the air pollution from wildfires. Another air quality study observed that fireworks also increase PM2.5 levels by as much as 370%, with 24-hour average concentrations reaching 48 μg/m3. All of which are beyond the levels considered safe by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards 

On the other side of the world, fireworks during the Diwali Festival in India exacerbated PM2.5 hourly concentration levels to above 900 μg/m3. Research also found that these concentrations travel long distances. This means that even people who aren’t using fireworks can also be affected by its pollution.  

Additionally, factors like geography, wind speed, wind direction, and temperature can exacerbate the air quality after fireworks. For example, events like temperature inversion can trap air pollutants for long periods. 

How Fireworks Affect Human Health 

Because fireworks create hazardous levels of air quality, they have direct impacts on human health. The Wisconsin Department of Naturally Resources warns that short-term exposure to fireworks can lead to: 

  • Asthma attacks
  • Acute bronchitis 
  • Heart attacks 
  • Arrhythmias 
  • Aggravated lung and heart disease 
  • Increased susceptibility to respiratory infections 

In some cases, it can also result in fatal asthma attacks and acute eosinophilic pneumonia. Worse, it can also increase your risk of early death as exposure to high levels of PM2.5 can heighten the chances of developing:  

What People are Doing About the Firework Air Quality 

“I think people need to be aware that there’s a cost associated with firework burning, not just money, but also the health-related costs and the cost to the environment,” explains Jun Wu, an environmental health scientist at the University of California.  

As more institutions realize the harmful effects of fireworks, governments, and communities are pushing for ways to mitigate and eliminate fireworks air pollution. Los Angeles, for example, uses highly choreographed drones instead of fireworks. That way, citizens can still experience an exciting light show without degrading their air quality.   

Various counties in California are also placing stricter fireworks regulations. Consequently, an air quality study using PurpleAir air quality monitors found that these areas have lower levels of air pollution than the rest of the state.   

Additionally, communities in Maywood City, California, are using PurpleAir air quality monitors to push back against the dangerous firework pollution. This air quality initiative is part of the Coalition for Clean Air’s advocacy of promoting public health through improving air quality.   

Using light shows and strings, noisemakers, and lanterns are other firework substitutions that can help reduce air pollution. Fireworks may have been traditionally used to mark significant celebrations. However, research proves they may no longer be worth the price as they negatively affect air quality, the environment, and our health. 

About PurpleAir

Since being founded in 2018, PurpleAir has dedicated itself to providing highly precise air quality monitors that track hyper-local air quality levels in real time. In doing this, PurpleAir is empowering community scientists and helping to facilitate social change through accessible air quality data for all. By working together, everyone is more informed and able to make changes in their local communities to improve air quality.