How Safe is Your Fourth of July?

Americans love the Fourth of July; picnics, patriotic celebrations, and beloved fireworks. However, studies show that the collective party creates the highest annual spike in air pollution. For fourteen years, (1999­-2013), US researchers studied the amount of fine particulate matter (small particles that we breathe in and can cause multiple health problems) from hundreds of air quality monitoring sites.

 Air Pollution Stems From Fireworks (

Air Pollution Stems From Fireworks (

The results show a 42% increase in particulate matter from the July 4th celebrations, compared to an average day. Of course, the increase is highest between 9:00 PM and 10:00 PM of the fourth, where concentrations rise by 21 micrograms per cubic meter in just one hour, which adds to the already high level of fine particulate matter in the air given off from earlier fireworks, BBQ’s, bonfires and other similar fourth of July traditions. The total amount of fine particulate matter given off during the fourth nearly exceeds the limit of particulate matter (PM) the EPA allows to emit in a 24­-hour period (35 micrograms per cubic meter).

According to Dian Seidel, a senior scientist at NOAA Air Resources Laboratory in Maryland, "These results will help improve air­-quality predictions, which currently don't account for fireworks as source of air pollution." Although they don't currently account for air pollution, fine particulate matter attributes to many health and environmental issues. PM affects vegetation and ecosystems by the loading of its chemical constituents, corrodes various structures, and even has the potential to change the climate through the formation of different weather patterns and absorption of solar radiation.

Without cutting the fireworks perhaps we could reduce fine particulate matter emissions during the whole year. Buildings that use better energy systems will not only save money, greenhouse gases and power, but also be healthier for the environment. For instance, buildings that use cogeneration, or combined heat and power (CHP), reduce air pollutants, which include nitrous oxides, carbon dioxides, COVs, sulfur dioxides, and particulate matter by 35­40%. CHP can have 4­5 year paybacks, immediate positive cash flows, generates more power using less fuel, and is healthy for the environment.

So, in order to have a great Fourth of July while keeping the environment safe, maybe we should all switch to better and more efficient energy­-saving systems.

What are other benefits of CHP asides from the ones listed above?

What are some other ways to reduce particulate matter emissions?

How important are PM when considering their overall role in global warming?