NOAA Study Notes Astonishing Spike In Air Pollution Caused By July 4 Fireworks

NOAA Study Notes Astonishing Spike In Air Pollution Caused By July 4 Fireworks
Shabbonna Lake-8.jpg Bob Haarmans / Flickr CC BY 2.0
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A few days before the Fourth of July and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released a study that could make or break preparations for Saturday’s massive fireworks displays across the nation.


Dian J. Seidel and Abigail N. Birnbaum, NOAA scientist and student intern, respectively, said in a new report published in the journal Atmospheric Environment that the United States’ Independence Day fireworks prompts an increase in the country’s air pollution by an average of 42 percent.

The scientists examined the concentrations of smallest particles – known as fine particulate matter or PM2.5 – detected from 315 air monitors across the country. This was from 1999 to 2013.

The study compared data on PM2.5 concentrations on July 4 on those years, versus days before and after the magnificent fireworks displays. It found that on July 4, concentration levels peaked at over twice their average between 9-10 p.m. These levels didn’t go down until around 12 p.m. the following day, July 5. That corresponds to a full 24-hour exposure.

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At one of the observing sites in Washington, D.C., the average PM2.5 concentration even shot by over 400 percent on July 4 between 8 to 10 p.m. Still, this fails in comparison to at a site in Ogden, Utah. The study discovered that PM2.5 levels in that area at 10 p.m. on July 4 surged by over a whopping 3700 percent.

“The study is… another wake up call for those who may be particularly sensitive to the effects of fine particulate matter,” Dian Seidel, study lead author, told the Washington Post.

The holiday explosions boosted the levels of airborne microscopic particles, albeit temporary. Still, they can pose a grave threat to people sensitive to particle pollution. It can trigger or lead to coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, asthma, heart attack and stroke.

“While the EPA does not regulate fireworks, the agency does recommend that people who are considered sensitive to particle pollution try to limit their exposure by watching fireworks from upwind – or as far away as possible. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plans and be sure to have their quick relief medicine handy,” the NOAA study notes.