Yikes—those fireworks may be beautiful, but sciences says they release huge amounts of unhealthy particulate matter and reduce air quality
Sorry to be a buzzkill on a holiday weekend: Fireworks significantly increase air pollution, causing the air on the night of the Fourth of July to be 42 percent worse on average across the United States than any other day during the year, according to a recent study in Atmospheric Environment.
Researchers looked at country-wide data and found that the level of particulate matter—small pollutants like dust, dirt, and soot in the air—is worse between 9 and 10 p.m. on Independence Day than other days in July. And, while it’s worst during fireworks displays, the air quality actually stays pretty bad into the morning of July 5 (it eases up by noon, though). It gets so bad in some places, in fact, that the air reaches a threshold that, if sustained, would be deemed unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Breathing in particulate matter over time can lead to coughing, wheezing, and even early death if you have pre-existing conditions like heart or lung disease, according to the EPA. (Plus, Air Pollution Is Linked to Anxiety.)
“When people think of air pollution, they think of other kinds of things—smoke stacks, automobile exhaust pipes, construction sites,” said study author Dian Seidel, Ph.D., senior scientist for climate measurements at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “I don’t think most people think of fireworks.”
Obviously, we would never suggest something as un-American as suggesting forgoing your firework display. (Watching is one of 10 Ways to Heat Up Summer Sex, after all!) There are a handful of avoidable factors that worsen the pollution, though. Weather patterns, location of the fireworks, number of shows, and scope of the display all play into the amount of pollution you’re breathing in after the finale, the study authors say.
Big cities are, not surprisingly, the worst offenders (even more reason to escape for the holiday weekend!). While sites adjacent to the launch still had increased levels of particulate matter, these rates were lower than where the fireworks were actually set off—so partner with your neighbors to launch a single collective (and even more spectacular) event to not only concentrate most of the pollution to one area, but also to minimize the number of explosions going off.
A sparkling spectacle may be everyone’s favorite way to celebrate Independence Day, but shooting ‘works safely is the best thing you can do praise your fellow Americans.