Fireworks leave damaging metal pollutants hanging in the air

July 8, 2020
Fireworks leave damaging metal pollutants hanging in the air

New research by NYU Langone Health (NYU Langone), US – the first to look into the impacts of firework exposure on human cells and animals – has found a range of harmful toxins left behind by the dazzling displays. Metals contained within fireworks such as lead, strontium and titanium, are usually subjected to searing temperatures to give off their striking colours. The metal particles remain in the air after a fireworks display and can be easily inhaled.

Knowing this, NYU Langone scientists analysed air quality samples collected over 14 years from dozens of sites across the US – the team found particularly high concentrations of toxic metals around Independence Day and New Year’s Eve from commonly-used fireworks including the Black Cuckoo and the Blue Storm firecrackers.

The scientists then noticed a significant increase in oxidation in human lung cells and several dozen mice exposed to particles emitted from fireworks explosions. While oxidation is a normally healthy process in the human body, heightened oxidation can permanently damage cells; this was linked with lung inflammation in the mice. The Black Cuckoo, a fountain-style firework, was also found to be the most harmful, causing 10 times more damage to the human cells than a nontoxic saline solution used as a control.

“Although people are only exposed to these substances for a short time each year, they are much more toxic than the pollutants we breathe every day,” said Professor Terry Gordon from the Department of Environmental Medicine.“While many are careful to protect themselves from injury from explosions, our results suggest that inhaling firework smoke may cause longer-term damage – a risk that has been largely ignored.”


Category: Education, Features

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