Fireworks, a bust for your health?

Coming off a long holiday weekend… it’s normal to feel a little rundown. Too much sun? Too much food? Too many fireworks?????

Fireworks are America’s favorite Independence Day entertainment.

They’re beautiful. But experts say they may be harmful to your health. And you might be feeling the affects this evening.

If you have a respiratory condition like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), or chemical sensitivity, you probably already know the kind of symptoms that chemicals from a fireworks show can cause – shortness of breath, coughing and chest pain.

But fireworks can be harmful even if you don’t have any existing respiratory issues. Some of the symptoms you might experience because of poor air quality caused by fireworks include: headaches, anxiety from nervous system effects, sore or swollen throat, airway inflammation, laryngitis, having trouble breathing, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, reduced lung function, pneumonia, and even heart attacks.

Fireworks only result in temporary increases in local air pollution, but this air pollution can travel for miles.

Dangerous air quality levels stick around throughout the morning into the afternoon of the 5th.

For most of the country, the wind calms down at night as the sun sets. Then the earth starts radiating the heat it absorbed from the sun. The warm air rises into the atmosphere as the cold denser air settles to the surface.

The cold air traps pollutants like smoke and heavy metal particles at the surface, where we breathe it in. This is called a temperature inversion. The upper level warm air is like a lid on our atmospheric pot, keeping everything stable and still. The atmosphere needs wind to mix up the stagnant air or sunshine to heat the ground to get warm thermals rising to improve air quality.

For example… last year in New York City, during July 4th, just after fireworks, it was the third most polluted city in the world. Usually, NYC fares better than half the cities around the world.

The pyrotechnics are largely made out of gunpowder, chemical colorants, metals, paper and plastics. The firework explodes and releases gasses and fine particulates into the air with smoke, color and noise. Some of the gas and particulates settles back to the surface, or transported on the wind to another town.

So when the fireworks explode, the metals don’t just burn up. They are still metal atoms, and many of them end up as aerosols that poison the air, the water and the soil (Forbes magazine).

The American Pyrotechnics Association reports that the United States set off 50.6 million pounds of professional fireworks and 102 million pounds of consumer/backyard fireworks in 2020.

How to Protect Yourself ~

Sit upwind from the fireworks staging area. (The breeze blows smoke away from you.)

Watch at least 500 feet away from the show.

Anyone with an underlying respiratory illness should consider enjoying the show on TV or watching through a window.

Replace the HVAC filter. Run air purifiers on high.

Keep your eye on your local air quality levels.

(sources: Forbes, Science Focus, AMS, American Pyrotechnics Association, Environmental Protection Agency, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, IQ Air, Green Matter, Getty Images)

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