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Breathtaking Fireworks Have Health Impacts, Too

Mike Renlund
Flickr Creative Commons


Fireworks are already exploding in neighborhoods throughout Utah. KUER’s Judy Fahys reports report on the potentially unhealthy side affects of this pastime.

Many enjoy the colorful spectacle of a fireworks display. But the pollution caused by fireworks makes others sick.

Just like the stuff that causes Utah’s winter smog, the smoke from fireworks is particle pollution.

“Any kind of pollution makes me cough,” says Richard Keene, a Salt Lake City resident whose lung problems are aggravated by fireworks smoke.

Credit Judy Fahys / KUER News
Richard Keene is one of many Utahns troubled by the pollution that comes from fireworks. He doesn't want them stopped altogether, just limited to the actual days of holiday celebrations.

“I haven’t wound up in the hospital for a long time, but that’s because I stay away from it.  And if I did get around it, I’m sure it would do me in.”

The smoke drives his wife away during the Fourth of July and Pioneer Day, and Keene and his wife would both like to see fewer days when pyrotechnics are permitted and PM 2.5 pollution goes up.

“What we find,” says Bo Call, who oversees monitoring for the Utah Division of Air Quality, “is that, if there are fireworks going on near one of our monitoring stations and the wind is blowing in that direction, that we will get spikes for our monitoring equipment for PM 2.5 that will basically go off the charts.”

Last year a monitor in Ogden recorded more than 20 times the pollution level deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In Salt Lake City, the pollution spiked over double the EPA limit. And they were six times higher than allowed in Utah County.

Call says all that smoke has health impacts.

“Those more personal fireworks that you can light off in your driveway or whatnot,” adds Call, “people really ought to think about that because that’s what’s making our monitors trigger for PM 2.5, and when you light ‘em off and you’re only 10 feet away from them, you’re really getting dosed.”

Children, the elderly and people the health impacts of air pollution.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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