Fireworks: Hazardous to air quality and health

07/02/2014 12:00 AM

07/02/2014 10:40 PM

Local air officials are reminding residents that Independence Day fireworks increase levels of dangerous particulate matter, posing a threat to air quality and health.

Fireworks emit large quantities of particulate matter, including soot, ash and metals. These can trigger serious health problems, especially in people with existing respiratory conditions, elderly people and small children, officials said.

Fine-particulate matter can invade the bloodstream and has been linked to heart attacks and strokes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, even short-term exposure to smoke can aggravate respiratory problems such as asthma attacks and acute bronchitis.

“Steps that people should take to avoid exposure to high levels of particulates produced by fireworks include staying away from fireworks as they are burned, such as staying inside,” San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District spokeswoman Janelle Schneider said via email.

Asked if common dust masks available in hardware stores offer protection, she said, “the air district is not expert on their use or effectiveness.” But she referenced an EPA document that says, “Paper ‘comfort’ or ‘dust’ masks ... are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks generally will not protect your lungs from the fine particles in smoke.”

High levels of particulate matter can also jeopardize the Valley’s progress in meeting air-quality standards set to protect public health.

“We’re appealing to Valley residents to think about the impact of fireworks on their personal health and their neighbors’ health,” Jaime Holt, the air district’s chief communications officer, said in a news release. “Each year, people suffer from serious health consequences of activities that are entirely preventable.”

Officials urge residents to refrain from lighting fireworks because air quality in the Valley during summer is already burdened by ozone pollution. Fireworks emissions add to what already may be poor air quality.

Air monitors throughout the Valley show a typical increase in particulate matter pollution every year following fireworks displays.

“The return to low particulate levels can vary depending on other factors that surround fireworks use, such as stagnant atmosphere or other events (wildfires, etc.),” Schneider said. “In Fresno last year, PM2.5 (fine particles) levels rocketed up to extremely unhealthy around 11 p.m. but fell back to low levels within a couple of hours. However, there are no guarantees as to the behavior of PM from fireworks as extenuating circumstances vary from city to city.

“The most important message we wish to emphasize is that it is far easier to maintain acceptable air quality by not lighting fireworks in the first place.”

Residents can check local air quality data through the Air District’s Real-time Air Advisory Network found at www.valleyair.org/RAAN.

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