Backcountry Attitude Home >> Leave No Trace >> Fireworks pollution
Fireworks contribute to polluting or damaging our planet in various ways throughout their life cycle.
For the color effect of fireworks, toxic heavy metals like barium, aluminum, lead, mercury salts, antimony, copper, and strontium can be used in firework compositions. Outdated heavy metals that have been used in the past include rubidium and cadmium. Some toxic elements are supposedly not used in fireworks anymore like lead compounds, chlorates, and mercury as mercurous chloride (calomel), but some firework chemical outlets still sell some of these ingredients, they can still be seen in some pyrotechnic chemical lists, and homemade fireworks makers still sometimes talk about using them.
|Toxic Element||Fireworks Usage||Toxic Effect of Fallout Dust & Fumes|
|Aluminum||brilliant whites||Contact dermatitis, bioaccumulation|
|Antimony sulfide||glitter effects||Toxic smoke, possible carcinogen|
|Arsenic compounds||Used as colorants. Sadly still out there. ||Toxic ash can cause lung cancer, skin irritation and wart formation.|
|Barium Nitrate||glittering greens||Poisonous. Fumes can irritate respiratory tract. Possible radioactive fallout. |
|Copper compounds||blues||Polychlorinated dioxins and dibenzofurans.  Can bioaccumulate. Cancer risk.|
|Hexachlorobenzene (HCB) ||Use was supposed to be banned globally.||Persistent environmental toxin. Is a carcinogen, mutagen and a reproductive hazard .|
|Lead Dioxide / Nitrate / Chloride||oxidizer||Bioaccumulation, developmental danger for kids & unborn babes, may remain airborne for days, poisonous to plants & animals|
|Lithium compounds||blazing reds||Toxic and irritating fumes when burned|
|Mercury (Mercurous chloride)||chlorine donor||Toxic heavy metal. Can bioaccumulate.|
|Nitric oxide||fireworks byproduct ||Toxic by inhalation. Is a free radical|
|Nitrogen dioxide||fireworks byproduct ||Highly toxic by inhalation. SIDS risk .|
|Ozone||fireworks byproduct ||Greenhouse gas that attacks & irritates lungs|
Ammonium & Potassium
|propellant / oxidizer||Can contaminate ground & surface waters, can cause thyroid problems in humans & animals|
|Potassium Nitrate||in black powder||Toxic dusts, carcinogenic sulfur-coal compounds|
|Strontium compounds||blazing reds||Can replace calcium in body. Strontium chloride is slightly toxic.|
|Sulfur Dioxide||gaseous byproduct of sulfur combustion||Acid rain from sulphuric acid affects water sources, vegetation & causes property damage. SIDS risk .|
A case study has shown that within 1 hour of fireworks displays levels of Strontium in the air increased 120 times, Magnesium 22 times, Barium 12 times, Potassium 11 times, and Copper 6 times more than the amount present in the air before the event. Strontium was found to be the best tracer in this study because it measured very high during the event and much lower at other time intervals which indicated that it was mostly a result of the fireworks display. 
We also need to be more environmentally responsible as well. When you buy fireworks you are buying the whole pollution cycle... from the beginning to the end of the product. We should be concerned about how all the pollutants related to fireworks can affect our environment and our health. Fireworks not only pollute the air and water with heavy metals, etc. but they also cause noise pollution and physical litter. Does anyone enjoy picking up stray fireworks (bottle rockets, etc.) from their yard, garden, etc? When I hear about fireworks safety it makes me laugh because the pollution from these colorful displays of toxic exploding materials doesn't seem safe to me. It really seems to me that the cheap thrills that fireworks provide are just an empty distraction and really have nothing to do with the actual true recognition of a particular holiday. Besides the big 4th of July holiday in the US, in the UK on the fifth of November... Guy Fawkes Night (aka Bonfire Night) is frequented with fireworks, and there is also the environmental disaster that is Diwali over in India.