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Air Pollution

Sparklers, Firework Pollution & Indoor Living: How Do Festive Traditions Impact Air Quality?

Picture of Dr Gabriela Adler Katz
By Dr Gabriela Adler Katz on November, 25 2020

We all deserve the opportunity to celebrate the festive season this winter, especially after the trying year we’ve had. But should we be paying more attention to the impact of holiday traditions on the air we breathe?

1) Beautiful but Toxic: Firework Pollution During Diwali, Bonfire Night & New Year 

Fireworks are used all around the world for festive occasions. They are our prettiest type of pollution, but not at all good for our breathing. 

 

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What are Fireworks Made of?

Fireworks are made up of a number of different metal compounds responsible for producing the bright colors we love to look at. The metal salts and explosives used in fireworks undergo chemical changes by combining with an oxidizer in a process of combustion. The result of this chemical reaction is smoke and gases. 

What Happens when a Firework Goes Off?

When a firework explodes, it releases a combination of fine particulate matter (which includes heavy metals, as well as poisonous gases) into the atmosphere. This can cause a rapid impact on the surrounding air quality.  Studies have also shown that fireworks can create a ‘burst’ of ozone formation, also harmful to human health.

An examination by Dyson found firework pollution impacts indoor air quality too. The graph below highlights the spike in PM2.5 in Los Angeles  following Independence Day. The blue line indicates the corresponding spike in indoor air quality following the Fourth of July:

 

Changes During the Pandemic

  • As the Coronavirus continues, Bonfire Night was called off in the UK in 2020 - public displays were banned and specific local authorities asked people to avoid private bonfires. 

  • This year, the air quality in Delhi became worst in the world after many residents defied the ban on firecrackers during Diwali. Poor air pollution is now widely seen to have exacerbated their Coronavirus crisis -  however, the high air pollution is also seen to be the result of factors alongside firework use - e.g. the burning of farm stubble in neighboring states.

  • Given the huge attention to poor air quality and the worsening pandemic situation in many places, it seems likely New Year firework celebrations will be scaled back this year, but let’s wait and see.

    2) Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

    For many, open log fires and wood-burning stoves come with warm, romantic associations of the winter holiday season. But could they be on their way out? 

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As stated by the EPA, exposure to wood smoke can irritate lungs, cause inflammation, affect the immune system and make us more prone to lung infections as a result of the Particulate Matter they emit. 

Bonfire Night in the UK has been found to contaminate the air with 100 times more soot than usual.

I have also personally studied the pollution impact of the annual Israeli nationwide wood-burning festive event called Lag b’omer - in this research, we found high concentrations of PAHs (toxic components that form during the burning of organic matter) that lingered for many hours - supporting again, the public health reality posed by these events. 

Changes During the Pandemic

  • Coronavirus may accelerate efforts to phase open fires out. For example, the CDC believes people who have or are currently recovering from COVID-19 may be at increased risk from wood smoke exposure due to compromised heart and/or lung function. 

  • Following the bold announcement last year by popular Alpine ski resort, Chamonix  that they would be banning open fireplaces, the UK government has informed residents they'll no longer be able to buy house coal or wet wood for wood burners or open fires from 2021.

3) Cooking Our Thanksgiving, Hanukkah & Christmas Dinners

Surely we’ll be safe enough this year by staying indoors, following social distancing rules and avoiding the usual big gatherings?

 

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Well, actually - in a homechem study, conducted in 2019,  scientists set out to study the effects of simply preparing and cooking a normal Thanksgiving dinner on indoor air quality. 

By 11AM, having simply completed a number of menial basic tasks in the kitchen - activities like using the toaster, heating oil in a frying pan, and using the coffee machine, the concentration of fine-particulate matter indoors had risen to levels that would be deemed unhealthy by the EPA (!)

Changes During the Pandemic

  • With social distancing rules in place, colder weather and enforced lockdowns, many of us will be indoors more over the coming weeks and months.  

We'll likely see increased emphasis on keeping our indoor spaces safe now we’ve discovered Coronavirus can be spread via airborne particles indoors:

    • The World Health Organization has underlined the importance of indoor ventilation and fresh air in preventing virus transmission.

    • The German government has announced a €500m investment towards improving ventilation systems in public buildings to help stop COVID-19 spread.

Watch the Webinar: Indoor Living in the Time of COVID-19

 

Safe Indoor & Outdoor Spaces Should Be on Everybody’s New Year’s Resolution List

In the coming year, expect to see a drive towards integrated indoor air management systems and ventilation technologies that focus on preventing the spread of COVID-19 indoors and indoor air contamination. 

Why Personalize Indoor Air Experience

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