Monday, December 11, 2023

Chinese fireworks/firecrackers are widely used around the world, but are they a source of noise pollution?


Fireworks were originally invented in China. China remains the largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks in the world.

firecracker (crackernoise makerbanger) is a small explosive device primarily designed to produce a large amount of noise, especially in the form of a loud bang, usually for celebration or entertainment; any visual effect is incidental to this goal. They have fuses and are wrapped in a heavy paper casing to contain the explosive compound. Firecrackers, along with fireworks,c.

Fireworks take many forms to produce four primary effects: noise, light, smoke, and floating materials (confetti most notably). They may be designed to burn with colored flames and sparks including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and silver. They are generally classified by where they perform, either ‘ground’ or ‘aerial’. Aerial fireworks may have their own propulsion (skyrocket) or be shot into the air by a mortar (aerial shell).

Health effects from noise

Noise health effects are the physical and psychological health consequences of regular exposure to consistent elevated sound levels. Noise from traffic, in particular, is considered by the World Health Organization to be one of the worst environmental stressors for humans, second only to air pollution. Elevated workplace or environmental noise can cause hearing impairment, tinnitus, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance, and sleep disturbance. Changes in the immune system and birth defects have been also attributed to noise exposure.

Noise pollution is an environmental health concern since it is often a risk factor for developing other diseases like tinnitus or impaired speech discrimination.

Although age-related health effects (presbycusis) occur naturally with age, in many countries the cumulative impact of noise is sufficient to impair the hearing of a large fraction of the population over the course of a lifetime. Noise exposure has been known to induce noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus, hypertension, vasoconstriction, and other cardiovascular adverse effects. Chronic noise exposure has been associated with sleep disturbances and increased incidence of diabetes. Adverse cardiovascular effects occur from chronic exposure to noise due to the sympathetic nervous system’s inability to habituate. The sympathetic nervous system maintains lighter stages of sleep when the body is exposed to noise, which does not allow blood pressure to follow the normal rise and fall cycle of an undisturbed circadian rhythm.

Stress from time spent around elevated noise levels has been linked with increased workplace accident rates, aggression, and other anti-social behaviors. The most significant sources are firecrackers (crackers, noise makers, bangers), vehicles, aircraft, prolonged exposure to loud music, and industrial noise. Prolonged exposure to noise at home has been linked to decreased mental health.

Why are “Chinese fireworks” banned in India?


“Chinese firecrackers” are a common sight in many temporary kiosks, which have mushroomed in the Diwali season. The Delhi government has also sprung up to action in cracking down on crackers of Chinese origin.

As the debate on firecrackers takes a nationalist turn to become Chinese vs. Indian, understanding the reason for the ban on so called Chinese firecrackers is essential. Are they more polluting than the Indian counterparts?

Ban on harmful substances

In 1992, the central government issued a notification to ban explosives containing a series of dangerous substancessulphur or sulphurate mixed with potassium chlorate or chlorate of other elements. Storage and handling of these compounds is hazardous in the manufacturing process. They are sensitive to the slightest amount of friction and toxic to the skin. When coupled with potassium, they form explosives that have led to fires and deaths. The temple fire accident in Kollam, Kerala that killed over 100 people in April 2016 was caused due to fireworks made from these banned substances.

The unstable, explosive nature of chlorates and perchlorates makes crackers noisier and gives a “bigger bang for your buck”. Before the 1992 notification, firecracker manufacturers preferred potassium chlorates and perchlorates because they were cheaper. They cost one-third as compared to their substitutes, potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate mixtures.

In the early 90s, the ban on harmful substances was interpreted as a ban on “Chinese” crackers, which largely used chlorates and perchlorates. Subsequently, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry also prohibited the sale and possession of fireworks of foreign origin in September 2014. This was inherently a result of pressure from the lobby of Indian firework manufacturers, who were losing their margins due to increased imports and smuggling of fireworks, mainly but not exclusively from China.

This means that “Chinese” fireworks were not what were banned per se, making the current drive to keep out Chinese fireworks from markets misguided. Although smuggled and illegal Chinese fireworks may contain higher levels of banned substances and have a higher potential for air pollution, releasing higher quantities of oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, the same holds true for illegal Indian firecrackers as well.

China and its firecracker policy

China’s firecracker policy has come a long way. Its firework composition guidelines are as stringent as ours and even more severe in many cities. As per China’s Ministry of Public Security, more than 138 cities in China have banned fireworks while another 536 cities have imposed restrictions on their sale and usage. Stringent restrictions have been imposed on personal usage of fireworks in Shanghai and Beijing due to severe air pollution.

Community-driven fireworks display for visual and aesthetic appeal is the direction towards which most civic authorities are driving policy. This would mean that rather than each citizen/household personally purchasing and displaying firecrackers, the purchase, display and use of fireworks would be common across a community unit.

The current hullaballoo around Chinese crackers, therefore, serves as a diversion from the real issue at hand—the extensive use of firecrackers in Indian cities. All firecrackers, by their nature of being explosives, are polluting in nature. There are no two opinions on this. By hiding behind the ban on Chinese fireworks, we are moving further away from the real issue, which is restricting and restraining from the use of firecrackers.

Source: DownToEarth, Wikipedia


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