On Fourth of July people in Merced County will be exposed to some of the most unhealthy air this year, according to San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District officials.
When the mix of firework emissions, hot temperatures and particulate matter (anything from dust, soot, ash and metals) ban together, officials said in a statement, they create a recipe for dangerous and unhealthy spikes in air quality.
Fireworks increase the levels of particulate matter, “which can cause serious health impacts, especially to individuals with existing respiratory conditions, elderly people and small children.”
“It is very rare to see these spikes in pollution as severe as we see on the Fourth of July at any other time of year,” said Anthony Presto, Outreach and Communications Representative, for the Valley Air District in an email. “We do tend to see them every Fourth of July throughout the Valley.”
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Fireworks also contain many metals that can be breathed in when exposed to their clouds of smoke, Presto said.
The high level of pollution in the air expected on Tuesday is considered by Valley Air officials to be dangerous for everyone, and officials advice people to refrain from outdoor activities when levels of air pollution are that high.
Particulate matter isn’t visible to the eye and can “invade the bloodstream, get deep into the lungs and has been linked to heart attacks and stroke,” Valley Air officials said. The spike in particulate matter in the air on July 4 can often be four to five times higher than health-based federal standards.
Presto said the spikes in air pollution are short lived, usually between 10 p.m. and midnight.
The spikes are partly caused by people lighting off fireworks throughout Merced County neighborhoods, officials said.
“All of the personal fireworks residents light in neighborhoods are creating excess amounts of localized particulate matter pollution at ground level, where people and animals are breathing it in,” Presto said.
Professional firework displays have less of an impact on air quality, Presto said, because they explode higher and their emissions dissipate before reaching ground level, posing less of a threat to people’s health.
“If Valley residents feel the need to enjoy fireworks, we urge them to exhibit their patriotism by attending a professional Independence Day event in their area instead of using personal fireworks,” said Seyed Sadredin, Valley Air’s executive director and air pollution control officer. “Each year, people suffer serious health consequences from direct exposure in the neighborhoods where they live and breathe… from fireworks activities that are entirely preventable.”
During the summer months Merced County already struggles with higher levels of ozone pollutants, that forms when pollutants are exposed to sunlight, “but, particulate matter, found in smoke, is even more harmful than ground-level ozone,” Presto said.