People watch a fireworks display

What’s in Fireworks Smoke? Toxic Metals and More  

The dazzle and excitement of fireworks are hallmarks of summer – but their splendor can leave behind a toxic cloud of smoke.  

While much attention is paid to the emergency room visits fireworks can cause each year, there’s emerging research on the air pollution associated with fireworks. 

Recent studies have shown the smoke from fireworks can contain lead, copper and other harmful toxins. This smoke can pose a health risk, particularly to people who suffer from respiratory conditions. While fireworks aren’t typically used year-round, the smoke they emit is far more toxic than the pollutants that we encounter every day.   

Fireworks can produce bright, exciting colors depending on the types of metals added to a gunpowder base. After the gunpowder is ignited and explodes, tiny metallic particles are released in the smoke – particles small enough that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs.  

Studies of festivals with fireworks across the world have found that levels of lead, copper, strontium, potassium and magnesium jumped after fireworks were launched.  

While researchers have not yet linked fireworks smoke to respiratory symptoms, there is a strong link between long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution and death from lung cancer. And for people living in urban areas, they may be more vulnerable to additional exposure to toxins in the air as they already live among air pollution from vehicle traffic and factories.  

The best way to avoid any potential issues from fireworks smoke is to avoid inhaling it.  

If you are sensitive to smoke or suffer from a respiratory disease like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it may be best to find a way to enjoy fireworks in a protected area and away from the smoke – like from inside a building. Pay attention to the wind direction, so you can stay away from the smoke cloud as it moves away from where the fireworks are. If you’re in the path of the fireworks smoke, consider staying inside and keeping your windows closed.  

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Photo credit: Getty Images

 

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