While parents may warn their children to avoid getting too close to fireworks, they may not realize the other health risks of using these showpieces. A new study published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology on Thursday, July 2, found some consumer fireworks release harmful contaminants for both humans and animals.
After examining 12 retail fireworks, the study found five of them emitted particles damaging to human cells and animal lungs, as reported by Philadelphia Tribune.
New York University's Grossman School of Medicine Consumers professor and author of the study Terry Gordon said people tend to forget about the toxins that are released when they set off fireworks.
"You or your family is setting off a ton of fireworks, and you're doing it safely as far as the physical injury is concerned," said Gordon adding that people ignore they are "inhaling high levels of toxic metals."
These poisons come from the various materials in the fireworks that create different colors such as copper can create blue fireworks while red fireworks can contain strontium.
The study did not measure if certain colors emit more toxins than others, but certain fireworks had lower toxicity levels. Gordon said those who had "very high levels of aluminum" had very low toxicity levels.
Lead emission in fireworks
Gordon's research includes firing up fireworks in a stainless-steel chamber, sifting the particles with, then exposing human cells and mice to these elements.
According to the Wired, the study found two fireworks emitted lead particles, one of which was 10 times more damaging. "I was surprised by the level of metals in the particles," said Gordon adding that one had "a super high level" of lead at 40,000 parts per million. The scientist also said it was "totally unexpected" as lead should normally not be released.
The nonprofit organization, American Fireworks Standards Laboratory, sets standards for American fireworks and carries out trials to ensure their safety. However, Gordon said not all are caught in the laboratory.
"Even though this laboratory has requirements for importing and the safety of fireworks testing, it's not broad enough to capture all the fireworks," said Gordon.
AFSL randomly tests firework samples in crates because it cannot test each crate. John Rogers, the group's executive director, said they work in factories to ensure fireworks meet federal standards as well as the voluntary criteria they set. These include the height fireworks have to travel into the air, the maximum burst radius, and other similar concerns.
Meanwhile, Gordon said that while his study did not touch the health effects of these toxins, but generally, they could lead to respiratory problems while asthmatics are more susceptible to these issues.
Dr. Kristin Van Hook, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics section on pediatric pulmonology and sleep medicine, suggested that children avoid standing where the firework smoke is leading to. These toxins can also affect children's respiratory systems.
Van Hook said she has seen asthmatic children being brought to the emergency room after breathing in firework smoke. Thus, she suggests limiting children's exposure to firework fumes. It is also better for parents to check any signs of difficulty in breathing.
Moreover, Gordon called the fireworks industry to uphold more safety regulations. "Given what we've found, they [must] make sure they are importing safer fireworks and that that's what the consumers use," Gordon added.