When I was a kid, Diwali for me was just about two things – new clothes and firecrackers.

I used to plan way in advance what all firecrackers I will be buying.

Not only that I used to scan the newspaper for Firecracker shop ads just to see where to buy that from. I used to spend hours bursting crackers, sparklers, snakes, rockets and what not!

A lot has changed since then, and a lot has changed around us since then. Today, 11 of the top 12 most polluted cities for particulate matter in the world are in India.

India is grappling with dangerous levels of air pollution levels and you must be aware of the Supreme court order about bursting crackers in a two-hour slot this Diwali due to air pollution consideration.

Many of us just associate air pollution with “dust” or “smoke” but recent researches have shown that in reality, it is much more than that.

So, let me give a quick overview of air pollution first.

Air Pollution – Quick Overview

Air pollution occurs when harmful or excessive quantities of substances including gases, particulates, and biological molecules are introduced into Earth’s atmosphere.

Examples include, extremely small solid or liquid particles called “particulates” for example, soot, dust, smokes, fumes, mists, etc.

Particulates that are 2.5 to 10 micrometres (μm) in size, also termed as PM10 are significant air pollutants because of their very harmful effects on human health.

Our body does have mechanisms to take care of larger particles. Nose hair and mucus are such mechanisms. But things get complicated and serious when very small particles are involved which these mechanisms cannot trap and stop.

PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometres) are a great worry as they are too small that they reach deep into our lungs, mix with blood and cause various types of health issues.

They are mostly emitted by various industrial processes, coal- or oil-burning power plants, residential heating systems, and automobiles. Lead fumes, Ozone, and other toxic chemical gases like NO2, SO2, etc. airborne particulates less than 0.5 μm in size are very toxic.

As you can see, this change (for most people) the understanding what air pollution is – air may look without any dust, but it may still be heavily polluted just because the smaller particles are not visible to our eyes.

Did You Know
A recent research has shown that soot from the polluted air is reaching placenta through lungs! Even the unborn are not safe!

Firecracker Air Pollution – Is It Real?

Firecracker Air Pollution

Let’s now come to the point of pollution caused by firecrackers.

Many people give reasoning such as, how can I reduce pollution by not bursting firecrackers while whole year we burn coal, diesel, petrol, and so on.

The aim of this article is not to give an opinion on that but to understand the severity of pollution caused by them.

Exposure to firecrackers is short, maybe 6-8 hrs but it happens in extreme proximity, especially when you are bursting them yourself. This can lead to severe health issues.

To understand this in detail, let us compare the “pollution” caused by various crackers with a cigarette. This is a good way to represent how high / low the levels are as we all know implications of smoking a cigarette.

I have taken the data of pollution caused by various firecrackers from a research done by Chest Research Foundation

As a guideline, I have taken that a cigarette smoked in a room produces around 140 µg/m3 of PM2.5 pollution.

Note – According to WHO the same limit for PM2.5 10 µg/m3

Let’s see how firecrackers stack up –

Type PM(2.5) Exposure Cigarettes

Snake Tablet

64,500 3 min 461

1,000 cracker garland

38,540 6 min 275

PulPul

28,950 3 min 207

Sparklers (Fuljhadi)

10,390 2 min 74

Ground Spinner (chakkar)

9,490 5 min 68

Flower Pot (Annar)

4,860 3 min 35

If you look at the above data, its just startling how polluted the firecrackers actually are! A snake releases particulate matter equal to 460 cigarettes!

This is not all – remember, we burn multiple flower pots, ground spinners, sparklers and so on! The impact may be much worse.

It is not only the concentration level of pollutants that matter. What all also matters is type of pollutants. Unfortunately, firecrackers produce two of the worst kinds of air pollutants

  • Sulphur Dioxide
  • Nitrogen Dioxide

These are known to cause multiple health issues in humans, especially children including respiratory, eyes, and cardiovascular issues.

So, the pollution threat by firecrackers is indeed real and also serious.

What can we do about this?

The best is to avoid firecrackers, but if that is not possible at least follow these guidelines –

  • Limit the worst kind of fire crackers, for example, snakes and PulPul. These are especially popular with children, who are most vulnerable to the problems.
  • Burst crackers in open spaces, this will ensure that blowing wind takes away the smoke and pollutants thus decreasing the concentration.
  • Minimise the exposure to toxic fumes by standing away and at right direction for example, if you are lighting a chakkar, stand in opposite direction of wind so that smoke does not come your way. This is very important for kids who ted to lean on snakes etc. and inhale the toxic fumes.
  • Keeping windows closed if there is heavy smoke concentration outside (especially true in housing complexes, etc.) can help minimize the concentration inside your house.
  • If you are inside your house and have an air purifier, use it for the whole time to decrease concentration of the pollutants as much as possible.

Summary

As we can see the air pollution threat from firecrackers is real and serious especially to children, elderly and patients with respiratory disorders.

Over to you now, what do you think we can do to have a safer Diwali? Share your views by commenting below.

Have a Happy Diwali!

Team AirHealth.in
Author

This article is written by AirHealth's team which consists of writers with degrees in medicine, biotechnology, pharmacy, nutrition, engineering, etc. The work is peer-reviewed by the core team or by our Advisors before it is published. Check out more about us in "Our Team" section.

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