Firework pollution isn’t as serious as it seems

Jul 6, 2023, 5:00 AM | Updated: 6:14 am

Setting off a firework can cause pollution, but it depends what time of day you're setting them off...

Fireworks explode in front of the moon over LaVell Edwards Stadium at the Stadium of Fire in Provo on Saturday, July 1, 2023. (Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The smoke in the sky after July’s celebrations with a firework or two isn’t the summer pollution Utahns should worry about.

Bo Call is an environmental air monitor manager at the Utah Department of Air Quality. He says most of the pollution from fireworks dissipates within 24 hours.

“There are definite bumps where we had firework impacts, and you can see where they went up some places,” Call said. “But the 24-hour average, which is what the standard is based on, is still doing pretty well.”

Call explains that firework smoke releases PM2.5 and PM10 particles into the atmosphere. These particles are harmful in large quantities, but wind and other factors can cause the particles to spread apart.

“A lot of it depends on how the wind is blowing and whether a specific area might get hit by all the smoke,” says Call. “But it looks like it was a pretty good season as far as it goes.”

PM particle levels are what cause problems during winter inversion months. However, during the summer, ozone pollution is the real troublemaker.

Ozone pollution + firework pollution

Air pollution over SLC

Smog settles over the Salt Lake Valley during an inversion on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Ozone comes from a chemical reaction that needs sunlight to form.

“If you have clear skies and high temperatures and pretty stagnant, you get a good opportunity for ozone to form, and that’s what you get during the summer,” Call explains.

During the day ozone levels will rise, but they fall each night as the sun fades and temperatures cool.

That’s why firework smoke and its PM particles don’t really add to the ozone levels and overall summer pollution. Their particles can’t mix with sunlight when they’re fired off at night — which is why it’s not considered a serious contributor to summer pollution.

High ozone levels can cause several negative side effects, often causing plant damage, rotted tires and lung issues.

If capable of controlling the weather, Call says ideally the rest of this year would include “afternoon clouds with thunderstorms about every three days.”

So far this year, levels of ozone and PM particles are on par with what they’ve been in past years.

“It’s really a lot more possible for folks to look and see what the numbers are, and then adjust their outdoor activities to what the pollution levels are,” says Call. “I would just say listen to your body, and check the numbers and see what it looks like before you go out and run a marathon or ride a bike for 50 miles or something.”

You can check current air conditions with the KSL Air Quality Network. 

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Firework pollution isn’t as serious as it seems