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Fireworks: Dazzling but dirty

Dazzling fireworks in celebration of the national holiday Monday night caused the usual sharp, if short-lived, decline in air quality across the nation.

In some cities, the spike in particle air pollution was enough to affect for hours people with respiratory diseases.

In Evansville, Ind., for example, fine particle pollution jumped at 9 p.m. to an hourly average of nearly 154 micrograms per cubic meter. The EPA threshold for unhealthy air is 35.

Fourth of July festivities can impact air quality on more than one front.

“For some cities, Independence Day traditions of charcoal barbecues and sparklers can cause it to exceed its pollution threshold,”reports the University of Maryland’s Atmospheric Lidar Group.

The group also notes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows states to discount “exceptional events” such as Independence Day fireworks in reporting air quality statistics to the federal government.

Cities experiencing significant fireworks-related air-quality issues this year included Louisville, Ky., and Chattanooga, Tenn., among others. In the past, significant air pollution spikes have affected Las Vegas (especially during years of already particulate-heavy air as a result of California wildfires), South Bend, Ind., and others.

In 2008, Las Vegas particle air pollution jumped to 200 micrograms per cubic meter for a period of time as a results of Independence Day fireworks.

The explosion of fireworks also releases dangerous metals into the air. The metals are used to produce the brilliant colors of the fireworks. Strontium, magnesium and dioxin-laden copper barium and other toxic metals are among the toxic mix released into the air.You can read up on it here.

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