Popular Fireworks Emit High Levels of Lead and Toxins
"Emissions from pyrotechnic displays are composed of numerous organic compounds as well as metals," a new study reports. Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm / Getty Images
Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal Particle and Fibre Technology, analyzed 12 different retail fireworks and found that once set off, five of them released particle emissions that could damage human cells and animal lungs, as CNN reported.
The metals are used to give the fireworks their vibrant colors when they explode. However, those same metals are hazardous to humans and animals. The study said that blue fireworks can be made of copper and red fireworks can contain strontium, which gives a brilliant red light.
"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," said Terry Gordon, environmental medicine professor at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine, as the New York Daily News reported
The study acknowledged that people are typically exposed to these emissions a few times a year, usually around July 4th and New Year's Eve. And yet, even that exposure means people are inhaling much more harmful toxins than what people breathe in normally.
The researchers looked at 14 years of air quality samples taken at dozens of locations across the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency throughout the years. The researchers noticed that levels of toxic metals tended to peak in samples taken near Independence Day and New Year's Eve celebrations. The concentration of airborne toxic metals was much higher during those years than at any other time.
"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 Dr. Gordon in an NYU press release.
"I could hypothesize that people could have, especially susceptible people like asthmatics, increased episodes," Gordon said to CNN.
To conduct the study, the scientists detonated fireworks in a laboratory chamber. They tested roughly a dozen types of fireworks commonly sold in the U.S., including the Black Cuckoo, the Color-Changing Wheel and the Blue Storm firecracker. They then tested mice and human lung cells with the captured particles.
The Black Cuckoo, a fountain-style firework, registered the most toxic of the group, at 10 times more damaging to human cells than a nontoxic saline solution, according to the findings, as NYU said in a statement.
Gordon said that the firework emitted lead particles at 40,000 parts per million, which is exceedingly high. Normally, lead should not be emitted at all, he said, as CNN reported.
Families looking to set off fireworks this weekend should be particularly mindful of children's developing lungs and brains. Parents should make sure their kids are far away from the fireworks smoke and any potential lead exposure.
"Allow the adults to be the ones to set off the fireworks and stay upwind from it so that the smoke is blowing in the breeze," said Kristin Van Hook, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics section on pediatric pulmonology and sleep medicine.
She told CNN she has seen cases where children who have asthma breathed in fumes from fireworks and ended up in the emergency room.
Gordon also said that families should be aware what their children are exposed to and that everyone should try to stay downwind from fireworks. He added that the fireworks industry must increase its safety regulations.
"Given what we've found, I propose that ... they make sure they are importing safer fireworks and that that's what the consumers use," Gordon said to CNN.
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For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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