The fireworks during Deepavali is always fascinating. Sometimes even beautiful to behold. But have you considered the level of pollution at this time?

Come Deepavali the skies turn into a beautiful canopy. Colourful fireworks create fanciful patterns and the sound of crackers fill the neighbourhood. It is all fun, light and sound till we realise that things that create joy can also turn into a cause for concern. It is slowly dawning on many that the fireworks, in their present form, can become a major pollutant and cause serious health problems.

As cities get denser, more houses and people live packed in smaller areas. Ambient air in these places, post-fireworks, gets concentrated with particulate matter.

For example, a study done in Salkia, a dense residential area near Kolkata in 2007, the concentration of the suspended particulate matter after Deepavali was 11.6 times more than a normal winter day. Though this is short-term air pollution, scientists think it can cause respiratory and cardio-vascular diseases.

Fireworks usually consist of an oxidant and a fuel. Normally charcoal and sulphur fuel are combined with potassium nitrate, the oxidant. When this mix is lit the nitrate oxidises to produce a bright glow and the heavy metals in the mixture produce different colours. For example barium produces green and copper produces green and blue colours. When a propellant such as gunpowder is used, the whole action can be lifted into the sky.

The presence of heavy metals and oxidisers in the ambient air increases after the fireworks. In the Kolkata case study mentioned above, after Deepavali, concentration of metals such as barium, copper, cadmium and mercury had increased considerably. Another study conducted in Lucknow showed that concentration of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide during Deepavali increased by almost three times over concentration levels on a normal day. Some of these harmful residues can also percolate and contaminate the groundwater.

While the ill effects of loud crackers have been realised and norms are in place to regulate them — crackers should not produce more than 125 decibels of sound — the other forms of pollution are yet to be checked. It could be made mandatory for firework manufacturers to keep the chemical content within the acceptable norms. Else, responsible consumers would shun fireworks that are not green.

Is banning the answer?

To ban fireworks is not a practical solution. What is needed is an eco-friendly product — a firework that can produce light and sound, but not cause any harm to the person or the environment. This is not an impossible demand to meet.

Some US-based companies have already started to produce eco-friendly fireworks. One US company Chemical and Engineering Newshas shifted to nitrogen based fuels instead of carbon-based ones to produce clean fireworks. In addition, these improved fireworks consume only one tenth of barium quantity for producing colours. This considerably cuts down the release of small particles, produces less smoke and makes the firework environment friendly.

Festival of lights

Deepavali is popularly known as the festival of lights. Deepavali means a row of lamps. Lamps are lit during Deepavali to signify the triumph of good over evil. In North India it is spread over a period of five days. The celebrations begin late Ashvin and ends Kartika. The first day is Dhan Teras and last day is Yama Dvitiya. Each day marks a celebration of the six principal stories associated with the festival. According to legend, this was the time Rama returned to his kingdom Ayodhya after having defeated Ravana. In South India, it is a one day festival and celebrates the victory of Krishna over Narakasura.

While, it is popularly known as the festival of lights, the more significant spiritual meaning is “the awareness of the inner light”. It is when this inner light is awoken that we are able to dispel darkness and ignorance and realise compassion and love.

The festival is celebrated with light, fireworks, worship and sweets. It is a rejoicing of the victory of light.