Media Contacts

Melinda Rogers

Communications Specialist, University of Utah Health Sciences Office of Public Affairs

Jul 01, 2014 7:36 PM


Holidays in Utah come with more than a fair share of fireworks that light up the night sky, but how does the smoky aftermath affect the state’s air quality —and ultimately —people’s health?

Kerry Kelly, associate director of the University of Utah’s Program for Air Quality, Health and Society, weighs in on what research shows about air quality on days when large fireworks displays are common.

Q: In Utah, the issues of fireworks contributing to poor air quality has been raised in recent months by cities considering whether lighting fireworks on holidays —such as July 4, Pioneer Day and even New Year's Eve —can be detrimental to air quality.  What have we learned from science about the contribution of fireworks to poor air quality along the Wasatch Front?

A: Fireworks release fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and nitrogen and sulfur compounds.  They have also been linked to ozone formation.  From a study we performed along the Wasatch Front using particle composition data from 2007 - 2011, we were able to identify a fireworks signature on July 4, July 24, and January 1 (and the days after these holidays).  The contributions to PM2.5 levels ranged from 15 to 50 percent on these days.  Because the data is only available every three days at the Hawthorne monitoring station (one measure we track for air quality) and for every sixth day at air quality monitoring stations in Bountiful and Lindon, the dataset is very limited.    

Q: Why are fireworks considered to be a polluter?

A:  Fireworks cause smoke and fine particulate matter.  Fine particulate matter has been associated with numerous adverse health effects including increased rates of asthma, heart attacks, and death.  Fireworks also contain metal compounds, and some of these cause the colors we see, like magnesium (white), copper (blue), barium (green), and strontium (red).  In addition, the nitrogen and sulfur compounds released by fireworks can be lung irritants.   

Q: Will the Program for Air Quality, Health and Society be researching this issue more in coming months?

A: This is very interesting and worth further study, and I hope to work with our collaborators to take a closer look at fireworks.