One chart that shows how fireworks worsen China’s already choking air

Pollution source
Pollution source
Image: AP Photo/Andy Wong
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A new research study has found a significant increase in toxic pollution during fireworks displays, backing up a decision by Beijing authorities to encourage a muted barrage for the Chinese New Year. (State media Xinhua says fireworks sales before Sunday’s celebration were 37% lower than last year.)

Published this week in Science of the Total Environment (paywall), the article looks at the New Year’s barrage of 2011 in the Yellow River Delta. Among other findings, it found elevated levels of barium, used to make fireworks green, and strontium, which creates the reds seen in the sky.

Look at this chart, published as part of the article. It measures the elevation of the same small particulate matter—2.5 micrograms in size per cubic meter–that choked China’s largest cities much of January. The World Health Organization regards a reading of 25 as safe, while the chart shows readings shooting above 200 from around 50 before and after the 2011 New Year fireworks displays. In January 2013, the reading rose above 900 at times in Beijing even without fireworks.

Chinese fireworks and smog chart
Image: Science of the Total Environment