A Big Fireworks Pollution Question Will Be Answered Today.

This was posted a few days ago at Professor Cliff Mass’s Weather Blog

Every year there is a major air pollution spike on the fourth of July, with small particles (PM2.5) surging during the evening.  To illustrate, here are the concentrations of small particles (PM2.5, sizes less than 2.5 microns) for June 15 to July 15th for 2018 and 2019.  Huge upticks of pollution for late July 4th and early July 5th.  

 2019

2018 These high levels of small particles are quite unhealthful, aggravating ailments such as asthma and heart disease.

There are, of course, two sources of the such fireworks pollution:  large community displays and personal fireworks.   The former typically use large shells propelled by large mortars, injecting more particles higher into the atmosphere.  Personal fireworks are more numerous and widespread, but the densest concentrations of pollutants are near the surface.

I have always wondered:  what are the relative contributions of the professional/community displays versus personal fireworks in terms of contributions to air pollution and the big spikes in particles (like shown below).   It was difficult to secure an answer because both happened at the same time.

But this year, a controlled experiment is going to take place on July 4th:  most community fireworks displayed were cancelled, while there are reports of “healthy” sales of personal fireworks.   Will there be a similar peak in pollutants?   Will air quality decline more because folks will go for big shows to provide distraction from all their current troubles?   We will know by next Sunday.

70 thoughts on “A Big Fireworks Pollution Question Will Be Answered Today.

  1. In terms of health effects, pollution of air being breathed by people just a few feet away from combustion will totally swamp, that of global or area concentrations.

  2. Ah yes, I recall the good ol’ days where we would have bottle rocket wars, literally launching bottle rockets at each other. And smoke bombs, basically doing our best to re-create scenes from Apocalypse Now. I’m lucky to have all of my fingers and eyes.

    • Smoke bombs.
      When I was a kid I remember buying Cherry Bombs and Silver Salutes by the gross.
      I also remember throwing them out our bedroom window … until … one hit the curtain and fell back into our room.
      (We made a launchers for bottle and 4 oz. rockets to shoot out the window after that.)
      Those were the days!

    • Yes, a piece of plastic pipe made a great launcher. I think it was until they blew up a building at U. Mich. we could get the silver powder that powered M80s and cherry bombs through the mail. Waterproof fuse and six inch casings were available too, one of those would clear a six foot diameter of grass on a lawn. Made a nice mushroom cloud too.

    • Back in the good ol’ high school days, I was driving a ’39 DeSoto. I made a bottle rocket launcher out of tin cans, with a solenoid to flip up the egress, and a nichrome igniter to light the fuse. Fastened it to the car with suction cups and tied it to a switch on my dash. Worked well, though of course it only shot once until reloaded. Cemented my reputation as a mad scientist one bit more firmly

  3. There are a lot of different metals used to produce the colors of fireworks, so how toxic are the particulate emissions from fireworks? Also, every since its inception, Disneyland in Anaheim has had fireworks every evening at 9:00 PM. I used to watch them coming home from my lab work at UC Irvine. I always wondered how come fireworks were tolerated by environmentalists as they were obviously unnecessary and causing pollution.
    The same goes for decorative fireplace and NG lights are malls, restaurants, etc. Pointless sources of GHG emissions that are ignored by just about everyone.
    If this is a “Crisis”, they every piece of low hanging fruit should be plucked, but nothing is done. Therefore, no “Crisis” in reality.

  4. I myself have several large mortars I intend to use if Antifa ever gets feisty in my neck of the woods.

    Just kidding! Probably. 😉

    Looking forward to the results of the study; the personal use of fireworks by lots of people here in my part of Canada began several evenings prior to July 1 and as of last night show no sign of abating. Demonstrating your patriotism by making a lot of noise is a relatively recent thing but is definitely here to stay, right along with “tuned” mufflers, Beats By Dre jammed into your ear canals 24/7, and boom stereos. Just call us America Lite.

    • We use July 1 to get rid of outdated flares from our boat. There is just about no other way to get rid of them without paying the suppliers, some of whom will, for a price, take the outdated ones.

    • My projectiles are smaller, but higher velocity..ready for the same “peaceful protesters” (NOT!) Happening.

    • My projectiles are smaller, less massive, but move appropriately 8X’s faster than the fireworks mortars.

      Ready for use in case “peaceful” (NOT!) protesters show up.

  5. Some variables to take in to account- what will be the sales/ usage of private fireworks? Will they be greater than usual due to less communal fireworks? Total tonnage used will also be interesting.
    To add an extra dimension to the equation- how many cancellations were from COVID hysteria and how many due to the insane cancel culture. Will the rabid Antifa types turn around and say-who needs to celebrate the racist Independence Day anyway-lets cancel Independence Day altogether and just celebrate Karl Marx’ birthdy instead.

    • In Washington State, just about every Indian Reservation sells illegal fireworks, and their stands are always packed. I suspect the idiots will be out in greater force this year.

  6. As usual, Charles via Cliff got me thinking. Is this a legit ‘natural experiment‘. So I spent a couple of hours researching the question. IT IS!

    Fine print on Cliff’s graphs say they are taken from the Seattle Beacon Hill monitoring station. Looked it up. Measures PM2.5 amongst other things and is a station contribution at the micro (that city block), middle (surrounding few blocks) neighborhood (South Seattle) and regional (Peugot Sound) EPA air quality monitoring networks. Is either ground or rooftop level, but obviously well maintained. I presume for reasons below that Cliff is graphing the ‘neighborhood’.

    Beacon Hill is mostly older residential (so yards), light retail, a hospital, some parks. So will have lots of personal fireworks—despite the irony that they are illegal in Seattle but easily bought just over the King county line. Seattle mayor Durkin does not enforce her fireworks ban (despite many on line resident complaints last year) any more than she policed CHOP.

    Question was, does South Seattle also have ‘local’ community fireworks displays? Thanks to South Seattle CoC, for 2019 answer was yes, at TWO different locations. For 2020, both are COVID cancelled.

    So Cliff has set up a real science experiment. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, CtM.

    • South Seattle also have ‘local’ community fireworks displays?

      Burning US flags that produce burning stars & red, white & blue smoke?

  7. Today at 3PM PDT much of the country is in the yellow area (10-20 ug/m3 PM2.5). I’mm looking at 5000 Purpleair monitors in the West, looks like more in the East.

    • Exactly,therefore it is completely irresponsible to put sparkles on deserts Heavy,metals and toxic carbohydrates.

  8. “These high levels of small particles are quite unhealthful”

    These high levels of small particles are CLAIMED to be quite unhealthful. The actual evidence for this claim are as weak as the claims that CO2 controls the weather.

    • no. its pretty clear.

      the only issue is the low dose data

      PM2.5 has heavy metals in it. not a good thing

  9. I’m going to be annoying here and point out the flaws with this experiment – if carried out by the stated methodology (it’s possible that some details were omitted?).

    1) A comparison data set, or possibly several, are needed for this. This is apparently Seattle only. An excellent comparison set would be Sydney on New Year’s Eve – which is only four days different in what season they are in. Is there a similar spike there on December 31?

    2) This is here – in Tucson, Arizona – but may apply to other urban areas also (it would be good to look at both those where this does apply, and where it does not – perhaps other commenters can provide anecdotal data on their areas?) Anyway, here, the big community display is set off from “A” Mountain, which is on the far west side of the city. To see it well, a majority of the city has to travel over there by car – which, when the display is over, leads to a massive – several hours and several square miles – traffic jam. All of those vehicles are going to contribute heavily to any measurement of particulates. Does Seattle normally set them off over their harbor? Do people travel to get to a good vantage point? Maybe NYC where I know they do set them off in the harbor – and travel is much, much harder.

    Just a few questions to add to the mix before publishing any results.

    • WO, because of similar questions, I researched this. See comment above. In that area of South Seattle, Cliff has set up a legit ‘experiment’. Seattle has several ‘large‘ fireworks displays on the 4th. Biggest is downtown over the harbor. But this station is in a residential area of South Seattle with its own CoC sponsoring (last year) two smaller community displays, while this year none.

    • Most of the Tucson area firework shows – including “A” mountain – have been cancelled this year due to the pandemic and fire hazards…

  10. Do you know, you climate doomsters educated by commercials rather than by science, that there is only nil to weak evidence that trace lead (Pb) is a poison, a toxin,
    or part of the end of Life as we know It.
    High levels of Pb, yes, but such cases are rare these days.
    The claims that trace levels of Pb harm the IQs of babies and children sit alongside such icons as the hockey stick graph and catastrophic sea level change from CO2. The reverse causation explanation, that mentally retarded children in early studies were more likely to chew on sources like window putty with Pb paint, remains valid.
    Heck, I am old enough to remember chewing putty.
    The compulsory removal of Pb from petrol was a very costly precaution, as is the overkill by bodies like EPA ordering zealous cleanups of sites alleged to be contaminated. Huge distortions of cost:benefit analysis.
    People no longer realise how deeply cradle to grave advertising of many matters has affected their lives by little more than covert propaganda. (I bet that some of you take an excess of vitamins, a bigger harm than Pb, because advertising told you to). Geoff S

    • How have any of us reached our dotage (I am a young 70 year old) after living through annual Guy Fawkes nights, 4th of July and New Years celebrations, military service (mine on shops with diesel generators and much cordite fumes from guns) and many other activities that nowadays will shorten everyone’s lives?

      How is it that my 96 year old WWII pilot friend is still with us as he had it much worse, including lower general living and food standards back then?

      • I’m only 66. (And I had tubercular meningitis when I was 18 months old.) And I smoke tobacco. (Not the other stuff … though I used too.)
        Guess I died years ago but just haven’t realized it yet.

        • MODS!
          I think I got my screen name and email mixed up!
          Please correct or delete!
          (One 12 oz celebration too much!)

          • Might advise changing your e-mail as well.
            I didn’t know that there was anyone still using AOL.

    • Geoff Sherrington July 4, 2020 at 4:06 pm
      Do you know, you climate doomsters educated by commercials rather than by science, that there is only nil to weak evidence that trace lead (Pb) is a poison, a toxin,
      Here you go Geoff.
      Summary
      Recent research has substantially increased knowledge about the effects of low-level lead exposure on children’s neurobehavioral development. This update article focuses on two specific areas of recent research: low-level effects on cognitive function, and results from experimental and observational studies designed to prevent or reverse the damaging effects of lead on intellectual development, either through chelation therapy or micronutrient supplementation. Taken as a whole, these studies suggest that there is no safe level of lead exposure for young children and, although small, these effects are enduring and possibly permanent.
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4675165/

      • jmorpuss,
        My tutors for lead effects were PE de Silva, MPH, retired, former manager AMCOSH Occupational Health Services. AJ Christophers, MB, BS, retired, former Chief Industrial Hygiene Officer, Industrial Hygiene Division, Department of Health, Victoria. Dr Christophers had been for some years a (or the) world authority on alleged lead toxicity.
        The present state of the art swivels on work by H L Needleman, whose methodology was poor, but whose conclusions have been adopted and used as building bridges by a brigade of followers.
        It is too involved and lengthy to go into the arguments in detail. However, I have been a difficult scientist to impress with shoddy work. The findings of Christophers and De Silva, including unpublished work, led me down a path of logic and clarity that I have not seen refuted. Also, according to some, I should have died or gone mental 75 years ago. Geoff S

  11. One problem though. Because of no commercial shows (or very few) and the Covid Stay at Home frustrations, people have been shooting off fireworks (illegal where I am) since the middle of June. The last week we also had wildfire smoke. Last night the personal fireworks got so bad that I could smell it (the wildfire smoke had gone down by evening). I have heard that this is happening in many places across the country. Therefore, the dates to look at are from June 15th through July 4 or maybe a few days beyond.

    • A similar situation here in Ohio. I have been hearing fireworks and gun shots for a couple days. Tonight, I have been hearing far more (big) firecrackers than I can remember during the 16 years I have lived here. Locally, people seem to be making up for the lack of a community show. So, the Grand Experiment has one small problem. It probably won’t be possible to separate the community-show pollution from the personal contributions. I expect that the only question that will be able to be answered is whether or not community shows help reduce pollution. But then again, the community show emphasizes mortar-launched aerial bursts of a large variety of coloring metals. It sounds like currently (and it is dark now) it is mostly flash powder contributing to the air pollution.

  12. Wow folks. Something else to ban. Go to it, the Earth needs you.
    PS: Blame the Chinese they invented the things. (sarc.

  13. I know my fellow townies do our best to contribute to the personal fireworks pollution. 6 populated lakes and several populated ponds. All in a big rural area. And right on the border with New Hampshire where fireworks can be legally purchased. It’s been pretty steady since Memorial Day weekend. This year it seems as though someone got ahold of some commercial-grade fireworks, though. One cat is in the closet and the other 4 are in the basement. And they’re just warming up!

  14. I’m more concerned about the noise pollution aspect of backyard fireworks. They terrorize pets, and indeed all animals, and negatively affect those with PTSD, and others. But the backyard fireworks morons don’t give a sheet, because they are first-class Aholes.

    • Bruce
      The last time I owned a bid dog, I wanted to take her hunting. So, when she was a pup, I would give her treats while popping paper bags. The first time I took her in the field and fired a .308, she was not in the least bothered.

      As I write this, I have a cat sleeping in the chair next to me, totally oblivious to all the popping and banging going on outside. She was a stray that I adopted and I suspect ran away from her owner because she had been spayed. If someone rings the doorbell, she runs and hides for a couple hours. It would seem that animal reactions are highly varied and depend a lot on how they have been raised — just like kids!

      • Just on their general temperament, too, @Clyde. I had three cats that would dive for the bunker at the slightest rumble of thunder – and a fourth one that might rouse from her nap in the window when a bolt hit just across the street.

        (She was definitely not deaf, either – she would come running when she heard the click as I raised the can opener lever, sometimes from across the house.)

    • “But the backyard fireworks morons don’t give a sheet, because they are first-class Aholes.”

      Nail on the head, Bruce. With all the indian reservations around here, people can get all the illegal fireworks they want, and simply don’t give a damn about laws, or other people’s property. I’ll have to go and clean up all the bottle rockets and other garbage out of my yard in a few days.

      And calling the police is pretty useless. I don’t know why they enact these laws if they have no intention of enforcing them.

    • I’m one of those Aholes and proud of it! We gave our dog calming treats and she weathered the storm very well. This is a dog that barks and cowers during a thunderstorm. The main thing is to keep them where the sounds of the fireworks will be muffled. Being too close to the noise can actually hurt their ears/hearing. So she was in our bedroom which was the furthest point from where we were setting off our fireworks and did just fine.

    • BTW where I am fireworks at legal. ‘
      Personally, when I was in the military I enjoyed hearing the distance rumbles and shots from the ranges and loved the evening shot for retreat.

      • Certain fireworks are legal here in Washington State, but the reservations don’t have to follow those laws, and simply don’t care. And the people who buy and set off the illegal fireworks are selfish *************

  15. Maybe the air pollution spike on July 4 is hot dog farts. Clearly there is sufficient interest in the topic to warrant a PhD study, with an NSF Grant.

  16. I find it highly amusing that immediately below the text of this article there is a “related” piece entitled “More Pointless Worrying From NOAA: July 4th Fireworks Cause A Spike in Particulate Matter For A Day”, dated 2015.

    I like fireworks.

    • Were those experiments on human subjects under Obama’s EPA chief (I think the name was “Windsor” or something like that.) AFTER she claimed pm25 was “fatal”, closely monitored?
      Exhaust from diesel trucks pumped directly into the “test subject’s” after it was declared by “Windsor” that
      pm25 was fatal?
      (I think those Obama EPA’s human experiments were at UNC?)

  17. Real time map

    http://berkeleyearth.org/archive/air-quality-real-time-map/

    hourly reporting from LA is a bit messed up to, but you can scroll down to
    historical and see the spikes on july 5 ( UTC )

    http://berkeleyearth.lbl.gov/air-quality/local/United_States_of_America/California/Los_Angeles

    Hourly data here

    UTC so mind your time zones

    http://berkeleyearth.lbl.gov/air-quality/maps/cities/United_States_of_America/California/Los_Angeles.txt

    The Air quality data has to be “lifted” from reporting web sites.
    there is no standard protocal for reporting stations or API or well depfined end point to sync to.
    So for every different country you have to write specific code to go to websites and grab the data.
    this generally works and is the only way to get hourly data. But its not perfect so you will have drop outs.

    Eventually this real time data will make it into weekly and monthly archives. What that means is that sometimes ( like today ) an area’s hourly may not be current or available, but eventually it ends up
    in an archive ( EPA for the USA)

  18. since the measurements are all ground based the height of the display might not make much difference … but it could be the commercial displays leave their particles above the ground based measurements … but as you said we will know more soon … I can tell you that in rural Pa I have heard some serious stuff going off for the last 3 hours with no community fireworks scheduled …

  19. I’m asthmatic and I’ve never had an attack associated with fireworks. I find the sulfur smell kind of soothing . It’s hot and humid here in Atlanta tonite and the haze is hanging low.

  20. I’m asthmatic and I’ve never had an attack associated with fireworks. I find the sulfur smell kind of soothing . It’s hot and humid here in Atlanta tonite and the haze is hanging low.

  21. Based on the noise level in my neighborhood, personal fireworks are down at least 50% over a normal year. I live near Houston and usually it sounds like a war zone. Pretty sporadic tonight.

  22. I just got home from my son’s house. His neighborhood sounded like a war zone. As I left, a pall of smoke had settled on the neighborhood. As I drove home, I wondered if this was going on all over the country, what would it do to the co2 levels at stations like Mauna Loa?

    • Alan,
      I hope you didn’t spend too much time wondering about Mauna Loa CO2 levels. My guess on the effect is next to nothing, nada, zilch.
      Firstly the pall of smoke doesn’t really represent CO2 which is odourless and colourless – unless you’ve fallen for the “smokestack images” of the water cooling towers of our beloved MSM propaganda outlets.

      It will all get lost in the Approx 9 billion tons of “man made” CO2 which is released each year, but remember this large amount is only about 3% of the total, the other 97% is a result of natural emissions.
      I have no idea how much CO2 is released from neighbourhood fireworks, but seriously doubt that it competes with 300,000,000,000 TONS of the stuff.

      SteveT

  23. There is a lot of junk in PM 2.5 “science”. Our public health schools are infested with zealots and charlatans. And what about all that holiday BBQ smoke?

  24. Well I did my part last night. Had my aged father and other family and friends over for Kabobs off the grill. 13 large skewers worth along with rice, baked mac & cheese, and applesauce bars with cream cheese icing.

    I have a 2″ x 10″ board with five PVC mortar tubes nailed to it. With some help sent up over 200 3″ shells from those last night plus 2 each 12 shot 3″ densepacks and 6 each 12 shot 2″ dense packs with of course the usual roman candles and such. Went though the whole shebang in about 40 minutes. My backyard is a mess this morning.

  25. The 4th is also has the highest usage of BBQ grills. (I just made up that statistic.)

    How do you factor the enormous amount of smoke generated from the grilling process into the equation?

  26. Why not compare the 4th to New Year’s Eve? Lots of big professional displays on New Year’s Eve. All over the world.

  27. “But this year, a controlled experiment is going to take place on July 4th”

    Not much about this is controlled by the scientist.

  28. Our local community displays were all canceled.

    In our neighborhood there were more personal fireworks going off by (if I were going to guess) an order of magnitude than normal.

    So I don’t think you can draw any comparisons. The total level of fireworks expended may be basically the same as during a year with large community displays…or it may be slightly less, or it may be a bunch more, there’s just know way to really know. I can say that within earshot of my house, it sounded like a battle was going on from before sunset to after midnight. It’s not normally nearly that pervasive and long lasting.

    By the way, the whole time I was thinking “this would be a great time for an invasion…no one would even notice until it was all over with”.

  29. This is funny. There were more professional displays around the 4th then normal. All the fairs were canceled and it seems everyone blew them off that weekend. I even heard a show before dark, they must not have had to stagger because there were not enough workers. We normally have one display in my area of upstate NY that weekend and I heard 6 go off that weekend.

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