More pointless worrying from NOAA: July 4th fireworks cause a spike in particulate matter for a day

From the Department of Obvious Science and the “don’t you have anything better to do with our tax dollars” department comes this pointless study. Gotta love the zinger at the end about the EPA not regulating fireworks emissions (yet). I’d like to see them try, because that might just be the bridge too far for that unaccountable federal agency.

Nationwide study measures short-term spike in July 4 particulate matter

Particulate matter linked to short and long-term health effects

fireworksFrom NOAA Headquarters:

From our nation’s founding, the Fourth of July has been synonymous with fireworks.

While many grew up learning that fireworks can be dangerous to the eyes and hands if not handled properly, fireworks also produce air pollutants, including particulate matter, that are linked to short-term or long-term health effects.

NOAA scientist Dian Seidel and Abigail Birnbaum, a student intern at NOAA, have authored a new study appearing in the journal Atmospheric Environment that quantifies the surge in fine particulate matter -particles that are two and one half microns in diameter (PM2.5) -on July 4, using observations from the 315 U.S. air quality monitoring sites that operated from 1999 to 2013. While scientists have known that fireworks displays produce a surge in fine particulates, the new study is the first nationwide quantitative analysis of the effects.

“We chose the holiday, not to put a damper on celebrations of America’s independence, but because it is the best way to do a nationwide study of the effects of fireworks on air quality,” said Seidel, a senior scientist at NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory in College Park, Maryland. “These results will help improve air quality predictions, which currently don’t account for fireworks as a source of air pollution. The study is also another wake up call for those who may be particularly sensitive to the effects of fine particulate matter.”

PM2.5 are microscopic particles that can affect health because they travel deep into a person’s respiratory tract, entering the lungs. Both long- and short-term exposures to fine particles are linked to a range of health effects – from coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, to asthma attacks, heart attack and stroke, and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children are among those most at risk from particle pollution exposure. For more information on risks, go online to the Environmental Protection Agency at: http://www.epa.gov/airquality/particlepollution/2012/decfshealth.pdf

The new research shows that hourly concentrations of fine particulate matter typically reach their highest levels, when compared to the days before and after July 4, on the evening of July 4. Levels drop back down by noon on July 5, according to the research. On average, the increases are largest from 9-10 p.m. on the holiday. Average concentrations over the 24-hour period starting at 8 p.m. on July 4 are 42 percent greater than on the days preceding and following the holiday.

Increases in fine particulate matter concentrations varied from location to location, due to how close the fireworks were to the monitoring site and variations in weather conditions. At one location, where fireworks are set off in a field adjacent to air quality monitoring instruments, particulate matter concentrations rose 370 percent on the holiday, well above the 24-hour fine particle standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s rules accommodate the tradition of using fireworks on the Fourth of July and at other cultural events, by allowing states to demonstrate that the short-term PM2.5 spikes measured on July 4 and 5 were influenced by fireworks display and should not be used in determining whether an area has violated the agency’s 24-hour PM2.5 standards.

And 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.

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79 thoughts on “More pointless worrying from NOAA: July 4th fireworks cause a spike in particulate matter for a day

  1. I don’t doubt that fireworks cause a measurable jump in particulate matter. However, this is more a statement about the advancement of measuring equipment than any real health hazard, IMO.

      • The colors come from chlorates, or now, more commonly, perchlorates. No lead.
        As far as particular matter, where I live there is a pall of smoke that hangs in the air after the July 4th orgy.

      • Oh but Dawtgtomis; those are “green” exposions” ahem unlike our co2 creating particulate causing fireworks
        And the people they blow up sequester co2 (ah possibly)
        michael

  2. The department of really obvious science.
    Happy Fourth Anthony! Where will you watch fireworks? In the early 80’s when I was a student at CSUC Woodson Bridge was the place.

  3. I wonder if all the warfare fireworks going off in every corner of the world, is currently having a contribution to the particulate matter I the universe.
    These reports seem to get more and more asinine, as time passes. That seems to track with the persons making these claims.

    • “These reports seem to get more and more asinine, as time passes”
      Well yea. We’re desensitized, they have to kick up the dosage to keep the buzz going.

  4. Locally, firework particulates can have an effect.
    It can seed fogs if the weather conditions are right. It can aggravate breathing problems in a confined space. It can get in your eyes.
    So don’t let off fireworks in the bathroom, Mario.

    • The bathroom is the only safe place to set them off. Put them in the tub it will act as a partial blast shield, then light them, and turn on the water and close the door. With luck, the water will put them out before they ignite, but with bad luck they will go off and hit part of the bath tub., At least you won’t be killed. You should do this with all fireworks including sparklers.
      Every year I am told I should even think about setting of my own fireworks. Every year I disregarded those warnings. Every year I am glad I did.

    • In college we fired a bottle rocket under the bathroom door while a friend was showering. The fog was so thick he had to open the door so he could find his toothbrush.

    • Here in the UK all fireworks from the biggest to the smallest come with so many safety instructions that on the very small ones that is all there seems room for on the label, the main instruction is for the spectators to be 25m away from the highly dangerous thing as it goes off trouble is they are so small and so weak that at that distance you would be hard pressed to see the thing when it does it’s little fizzle. Also over the years as many and various people have managed to kill or injure themselves by either not reading the instructions or ignoring them more and more of the best ones have been banned from public sale and we are only allowed those that our leaders think are safer. There are those who would like a total ban on all fireworks.
      I have always thought of them as the best toys ever if you remember that they will kill or hurt you if given the chance.
      Most are now imported from the far east and are way more dangerous for misfires than anything I bought in my youth.
      James Bull

      • You’re celebrating American independence in the UK? Mighty sporting of you, old chap!😋. Seriously though, when supposed adults start bonfires in the middle of the street and proceed to throw all kinds of pyrotechnics into the fire while little kids are less than 25′ from said explosions, it’s probably time for government to step in and protect us from ourselves. With morons setting off explosions that would make a tank commander proud, at 2am, it’s time for restrictions on the size and time of use. When supermarkets start selling huge box sets of fancy fireworks with large mortar tubes and have them readily available in the middle of the store, it’s time to use some common sense & get explosives out of a public area where serious harm can occur in a very short amount of time. Finally, when fireworks companies set up huge tents to sell their wares, on gas station properties, not far from the gas pumps, it’s time to say enough and ask what government is doing to protect the public from people who lack any judgement whatsoever, never mind sound judgement.
        I like fireworks as much as the next guy, set off more than my share during my lifetime, but call me silly if I think these idiots are going to set the forest on fire around our neighborhood, or some poor little kid is going to be seriously injured or worse because daddy was too drunk for proper brain function while using explosives. My wife & I are tired of getting 2 or 3 hours of sleep before going to work the day after fireworks celebrations (it’s not just the 4th of July here where I live) because people just don’t know when to quit and the local governments have been told by the state that they can’t make laws that are more strange meant that state laws–at least when it comes to fireworks.
        So, if the organization I despise the most in federal government wants to find any excuse they can to limit fireworks I say good and sorry to those revel era who explode responsibly.

      • Theirs is on November 5th. Guy Fawkes night bonfires and fireworks.
        Remember, remember – the fifth of November. The gunpowder treason and plot.

  5. An hour of spectacular boomers compared to backyard cookouts all over town, all weekend long. One would wonder which really does make more smoke. BTW, the latest EPA particulate regs. on particulates are such that one barbecue will put a whole neighborhood out of compliance. This is not the first time the EPA has floated the “fireworks as air pollution” trial balloon.

  6. There some numerically illiterate people working in NOAA
    They give you opportunity to interrogate a data file for daily values, specifying actual date of the year you may be interested.
    All fine and good, excellent public service you may think, but just wait a minute, if you plot data for each year for your single selected date you get this
    http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/NOAAdata.gif

    • They haven’t adjusted for the igniting mechanism yet so the scale is relative. /sarc
      Seriously, the jump in 1976 was from the bicentennial celebrations and it’s been all hockey stick since then

      • Hmm.. didn’t think of that, now you mentioned it, I can see the effect of the 1929 Wall Street crush and the depression. /sarc

      • If that graph represents July 4th, wouldn’t you also want to know something about the #’s of firework displays(quantities of fireworks) over the same time period? and with ref. to an earlier post, the #’s of active barbeques over time as well? What a bunch of pointless handwringing by NOAA and the EPA.

      • Hi Andrew
        No, the graph has nothing to do with any of the human activities; it’s just an example of how NOAA interpolates data. It appears that they just take data reading once every 5 years, make it flat for about 2.5 years around the actual date, and then linearly interpolate to the next sample’s 2.5 years plateau.
        Doing spectral analysis on such data makes the response ZING …..

    • I question that drop from 1940 to 1950. True, most of the actual fireworks were in Europe and the Pacific, and in 1950- Korea, but there must have been a significant increase in firing PRACTICE rounds in the US during that period of time.

  7. In one country on the other side of the pond, the ‘spike’ occurs on 5th November, where we celebrate the last person to enter parliament with honest intentions.

  8. “I’d like to see them try, because that might just be the bridge too far for that unaccountable federal agency.”
    Well, over here in lil’ ole Ingerland we are getting perilously close. I confidently predict a ban for “unlicensed” use of fireworks within the decade.

    • Jack,
      There have been laws against certain classs of fireorks (both buying and using) for years.They are fairly uninforceable. Particularly in states (like here in WA) where Tribal areas abound close to urban areas. Unless someone gets hurt or does something really stupid, law enforcement has more important issues to pay attention too.

    • There has been a blanket ban on fireworks in Hong Kong for many years, except for official displays. Doesn’t make a lot difference though in the rural areas, especially at Chinese New Year

  9. As a topic for research I can see where it would have some appeal. It is something they have data for and at least can be controlled for time period. And yes thre is some small public service in reminding people who could be at risk that thei condition could be exacebated. As much as I dislike it, we live in a nanny state culture. The people who favor that culture believe a lot of us are just not smart enough to act in our own est interests. At least best as they see it. That is why the EPA requires the City of Portland to add chemicals to soe of the cleanest, purest water in the nation. Because they assume that people are ignorant (can’t tell if they have old lead piping) or dumb (will ignore the advice to run the water a few seconds to flush any which may have sat long enough to allow lead to go into solution).
    It would not surprise me to see some enterprising nannyist at EPA propose regulating or banning fireworks. In some states concern over wildfires might beat them to it.

  10. You can tell government bureaucrats must be bored to death wasting their pitiful lives making life harder for average Americans.

    • pyeatte
      Believe me – it is not just American bureaucrats.
      All over the world – yes, even in Yourp, aka the European Union (haven’t checked to see if Greece has been flung out for a couple of hours].
      And in Industry sectors.
      Ejecta from the southern end of a north-facing bull, plus Tick-Box Compliance, equals – ahhh it’s late.
      Work it out for your good selves, please.
      And Mods – no /sarc here.
      Not an iota [damned Greek theme again – sorry!].
      Auto

  11. Our utterly pointless; in fact, downright obnoxious research shows that hourly concentrations of loud booms typically reach their highest levels, when compared to the days before and after July 4, on the evening of July 4. Loud boom levels drop back down by noon on July 5, according to our audacious auditory research. On average, the loud boom increases are loudest from 9-10 p.m. on the holiday. Average loud boom concentrations over the 24-hour period starting at 8 p.m. on July 4 are 42 percent greater than on the days preceding and following the holiday because there are 42 percent less firecrackers exploded on the days preceding and following the holiday.
    Pope Francis is expected to issue an Encyclical concerning this although nobody on Earth knows why.

    • correction: love not live although I live for the smell of gunpowder in the morning isn’t so far off. Perhaps I spent too much time outside in the sun this afternoon.

  12. The Government have been doing its best to but a damper on the freedoms it was formed to protect.
    Who’s surprised that they’d try to put a damper on the celebration of those freedoms?

  13. Oh good grief.
    Of course, a cold day will likely cause a spike in atmospheric particulates as people light fires to keep warm.
    I guess EPA isn’t too worried since Global Warming has put an end to cold days and lighting a fire will soon be a felony.

  14. I can see it now: The Fourth of July metric. Let’s see; we’ve got the CO2 equivalent energy to x number of Hiroshima bombs metric. We’ve got the rising water levels flooding so many Manhattans metric. In the near future we can expect some sort of silly statement that says: ‘The particulates this power plant puts out in one day are to equal 200 Fourth of July celebrations.’

    • How about the whole friggin Federal government with thee exception of Defense and Defense related activities is long overdue for a minimum of a 50% workforce reduction! Even some of the defense related agencies such as the NSA could use some cutting.

      • why exempt defense? There’s plenty of stupid waste over at the pentagon too. We could, for instance, close down the futurist scenario planning for global warming over there.

  15. This is the kind of BS we get with huge unconstitutional government and subsidized public education that restocks it with automatons. What would be interesting to me is how many of these fine particles actually make it deep into your lungs. Is it one? Is it two? Is it 1000? How many does it take to cause a health issue? My guess is at an outdoor event such as fireworks display it is undetectable!

    • At least the EPA was trying to find out until the evil, unscientific American Tradition Institute asked a few questions. s/
      It’s a good thing the U.S Public Health Service called off the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments in 1972. Had someone sued to stop the horror, a federal judge like Anthony Trenga might have stopped the suit — not the experiments.
      That’s precisely what Judge Trenga did on Jan. 31 in the case of the American Tradition Institute v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
      The American Tradition Institute sued the EPA in October to stop an ongoing experiment in which the agency was exposing elderly study subjects (up to 75 years of age) to concentrated levels of a deadly (according to EPA) air pollutant known as PM2.5 (soot or dust much smaller than the width of a human hair).
      In conducting these experiments, the EPA either lied to the study subjects (giving rise to civil and possibly criminal liability), or the agency lied to Congress and the public about the dangers of PM2.5 (risking the agency’s reputation and related regulatory programs). This question remains of great import. It’s just too bad Judge Trenga wasn’t interested in learning the answer.

      Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/feb/13/milloy-federal-judge-overturns-epa-human-experimen/#ixzz3eaShB8AK
      Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter

  16. Let’s not forget that our ancestors heated with and cooked over fires and must have breathed in massive amounts of particulate matter. They burned candles and oil lamps indoors. A year of breathing in this environment probably exposed them to more particulate matter than most Americans today, breath in during their life time.
    Of course that doesn’t mean that it’s ok to breathe some particulate matter from time to time, just that we should put things into perspective. Our air is pretty dang clean, especially compared to the pilgrims indoor environment.
    The invention/use of catalytic convertors and air pollution scrubbers improved outdoor air quality a great deal after the Industrial Revolution.
    Today, we have redefined air pollution. The target is now focused on reducing a beneficial gas because of which, there has been a cumulative number of premature deaths(from breathing ambient atmospheric levels of it) of zero. If emissions of CO2 continue to rise, by the year 2100, there will be a cumulative number of premature deaths of zero from breathing ambient atmospheric levels of it. Respiratory complications from humans and the entire animal kingdom from breathing these elevated levels of ambient atmospheric levels of CO2 will also be zero.
    Plants?
    Sunshine +H2O +CO2 + Minerals =O2 + Sugars(food)

  17. I don’t know what the hell they were measuring or what for. Drop this “result” into the not-worth-the-paper file. Anyway, whenever I hear fireworks discussed I am reminded of the several years I lived in Honolulu. Every holiday from Chinese New Year to 4th of July was an overwhelming din. There were fireworks going off everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. Trash cans, telephone poles, street curbs, lanais, everywhere. Dang, now that was some particulate. I remember walking through the tunnel to get into Diamond Head Crater to watch a concert when somehow a lit rope of firecrackers ended up inside a car. The people in the car got out rather fast. You should have seen the particulates!

  18. Normally the government tells us we can’t light off fireworks, because they are dangerous, a woman on TV the other day said “don’t buy, don’t touch them, don’t go near, don’t set them off, they could KILL you.” But it seem to me that if they increase particulate matter and particulate matter causes cooling we should set off fireworks everyday.

  19. California Coastal Commission leads the way with raining on fireworks. See Gualala (small CA coastal city) Festivals Committee vs. CCC:
    http://lawzilla.com/blog/gualala-festivals-committee-v-california-coastal-commission/
    A fireworks display is (gasp!) development, just not development as we know it:
    “Although such a display may not be a “development” in the ordinary sense of the word, the Commission’s interpretation conforms both with the expansive statutory definition of the term and the purpose of the statute. Hence we shall affirm the trial court’s judgment upholding the Commission’s action.”
    The CCC used Guillemot bird nesting to support its decision. The statistics were not statistics as we know them. The following are excerpts from a real statistician colleague’s review of CCC “statistics”
    …can’t believe what can pass for science…
    …no control site, so there are many potential confounding factors…
    …Maybe…this would happen with or without fireworks…
    …interesting that there are no nests with newly visible chicks until July 5…
    …no reasonable way to conclude that the nest abandonment “likely resulted from fireworks disturbance”.
    …The collection of data also seems strange – is it really that nests were only observed May 30, June 5, July 5, July 7 and July 12? If so, then you don’t really know the time period over which the failures occurred. Suppose the following occurred:
    6 of 90 (6.7%) abandonments July 3 – July 5 (but all were before fireworks)
    7 of 88 (8.0%) abandonments July 5 – July 7
    7 of 82 (8.5%) abandonments July 7 – July 9
    This appears to fit the collected data and shows that there is essentially the same rate of nest abandonment before and after the fireworks.
    …no control – if they looked at several sites with and without fireworks and compared them there would be more compelling evidence – as it is there are many other explanations for the clustering of the nest abandonments…
    …a problem that different period lengths were considered, but it also seems a problem that we don’t know that the events were uniformly distributed across the periods, so that as I mentioned before there could be a clustering of events in a short period of time, although the measuring technique makes it look like a long period of time…
    …lack of comparison to another area without fireworks and only considering one area (essentially a sample size of 1)…
    …use the Coastal Commission logic to argue that there were more nests with newly visible chicks immediately following the fireworks and therefore the fireworks must have caused these new chicks to appear…
    I added this evaluation:
    …The bird study was conducted from May to August 2007 and released 12 February 2008. Where are the studies for 2006, 2005, etc.? Where is the study for 2008? Will there be a study for 2009? In the absence of corroborating or continuing studies, one might suspect an ad hoc results-based approach focused on Gualala’s fireworks issue.

  20. If the EPA’s junk science had an iota of truth to it there would be millions of Chinese dropping dead every day.

    • It could be happening and no one is in the West would notice. That is a sad note on both China’s population size and its press freedoms.

  21. Just a cotton pick’n minute. Last I heard aerosols were the only things saving us from inexorable radiative forcing. Everything we do is evil. Let’s make a pact with the devil and blast the hell out of Independence Day to save the planet.

  22. The sad thing is that there are government scientists who really think this is worth looking into. We have created a nation of timid, pathetic individuals. This is NOT our greatest generation.

  23. I think this is just an incremental step towards a national ban on 4th of July fireworks. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the real reason for this ban (should it happen) is that liberals don’t like patriotism.

  24. I propose to punish the Chinese Government, retrospectively, for having allowed the invention of fireworks!!
    A tax on the Chinese Government every time Fireworks are used would be a start. Now I need Funding to see how we are going to collect the tax…….

  25. I guess we are supposed to ignore that the EPA tried to show that their feared particulate matter was lethal by exposing some test subjects (without telling them that they were expected to die) to high levels of particulates. When the subjects were fine, the EPA buried the study, but someone outed them and they were chastised in subsequent Congressional hearings. However, the EPA persists in pretending that there are widespread health effects and will not let it go until they find some way to use it against us.

  26. An assault on independence day? Go figure from this administration …—…
    We forget, so quickly, why we fought for the freedom we have from such bureaucracy. . .

  27. The smell of fireworks in the night air on the 4th of July… it smells like….. Freedom.
    Progressives hate that smell.

  28. Got this from a mole I have at the local electric company. There is a large spike in electric usage on one particular day of the year, at one particular hour – “Earth Hour.”
    Barack Obama has been the best thing ever for firearms sales in this country.
    If this latest idiocy gains traction in the media – expect fireworks sales to EXPLODE.
    If you expected me to resist that one…

  29. I see the “Nanny State” is not restricted to UK.
    I have fond memories of life before nannyism, I used to buy sodium chlorate weedkiller and make my own fireworks until its sale was banned.
    Apparently the sense of smell evokes the strongest memories, the smell of fireworks and bonfires on 5th November is a smell that still brings back childhood and early fatherhood memories. In the future when I am heating and cooking with dried dung because the wind isn’t blowing or the sun is not shining I don’t think this smell will be worth reminiscing!

  30. We were talking just recently about the need for generalists in science and life in general.
    A scientifically literate generalist would have had no difficult comprehending the causes of this terrible accident on Fireworks Night in the UK.
    Whilst the cause is almost definitely a cloud/fog condensation nucleated by low level drifting smoke particles. Plus conditions of low level temperature inversion causing both the saturated air AND the tendency for the smoke to drift at low level. These principles were not easily grasped by either the media or the authorities at the time.
    That’s my casual assessment. And I’m just a nobody.
    The public discussion of the event seemed to remain stuck on the pointless debate as to whether the accident was caused by smoke, or was it caused by fog.
    If not smoke, then surely fog. If not fog then surely smoke was the cause, etc.
    Ultimately, I doubt that anything was learned. Which was a shame, because this kind of accident can now happen again at any time.
    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/apr/17/firework-smoke-not-blame-fatal-pile-up-motorway-coroner

  31. …fireworks also produce air pollutants, including particulate matter, that are linked to short-term or long-term health effects.

    Has this “link” been demonstrated? …or merely postulated?

  32. The founders of this country encouraged citizens to celebrate their independence with fireworks and now the EPA allows the states to set off fireworks. A regulation just waiting to be tweaked.

  33. Don’t particulates cause cooling? If global warming is such a threat, any activities with a cooling effect should be encouraged …

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