How bad are fireworks for the environment?

Photo by Peter Spencer on

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | July 3rd, 2018

Fireworks have a long history as tools of celebration and ceremony. First created centuries ago, modern fireworks, at their core, work in much the same way as their ancient counterpoints, filled with a powered mix of sulfur, carbon, and potassium nitrate.

Per year, fireworks in the US release about 60,340 metric tons of CO2 into the air–about the equivalent of the yearly CO2 production of 12,000 cars. Much of the debris from fireworks fall into the lakes and rivers that they’re launched over.

Fireworks in dense amounts can cause measurable damage: the National Institute of Technology in Jamshedpur, India found that the levels of pollution in their air spiked by up to 27% immediately following a barrage of fireworks released for Diwali, a four-day Hindu festival.

Fireworks still rank relatively low on the scale of overall CO2 producers in the US year to year, with transportation holding the top spot as the source of about 28.9% of all CO2 emissions annually. Though their CO2 emissions may be small compared to other emission sources, other compounds–like toxic metals–hang in the atmosphere for days or weeks after fireworks are released.

Banning certain firework compounds and limiting the use of fireworks is one way to help reduce the environmental impact of these bright bursts of tradition. Fireworks are deeply ingrained in multiple cultures–and getting rid of them completely is unlikely. Whether you’re launching fireworks at home or observing them for the 4th, remember their environmental impact–and be mindful of all the other ways that our celebrations affect our planet’s health.

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