A blanket of haze and smog enveloped Delhi on Monday morning after a night of Diwali revelry. At 7:23 am, HT’s air quality index showed a reading of a severe 447. Air pollution level is classified as severe if it is between 401 and 500.
While the deed is done for this year, here’s why there should be a blanket ban on crackers in India:
First, the chemical footprint of crackers is deadly.
Second, the impact of crackers on children is far greater than it is on adults because their defence mechanism is much poorer and their ability to metabolise and detoxify environmental agents is different. Moreover, due to their high level of physical activities, children inhale more volume of air as compared to adults and so breathe in more toxic air.
Third, fire crackers have carbon and sulphur and they produce a range of gases. Plus, there are a number of chemicals that act as colouring agent, reducing agent, oxidiser, stabiliser and binder.
These colours have antimony sulphide for the glitter effect, aluminum for white, barium nitrate for green, lithium for red, copper for blue and strontium for purple.
These chemical substances are harmful to our body.
Aluminum and antimony sulphide (colouring agents) causes Alzheimer’ disease, perchlorate (ammonium and potassium), an oxidizing agent, can cause lung cancer. It causes thyroid complications, the cadmium compounds damage the lungs and leads to gastrointestinal problems.
The barium nitrate is poisonous and causes respiratory irritation, radioactive effects, gastrointestinal problems and muscular weakness.
The lithium and copper compounds causes hormonal imbalance and is poisonous to plants and animals, detrimental to physical and mental growth in infants and unborn children, accumulation within the body and by-products like nitrogen dioxide which is highly poisonous, fatal for infants, the source of acid rain.
Most of these toxins can trigger cancer.
Fourth, these gases cause respiratory problems. Hospitals in Delhi report at least 30%-40% increase in wheezing, respiratory disease, bronchial asthma, bronchitis, and worsening of asthma.
India Chest Society has issued warning about hearing loss, blood pressure, sleeping disturbances, heart ailments and nausea effects on pets.
In 1992, the Centre issued a notification to ban explosives containing a series of dangerous substances like sulphur or sulphurate mixed with potassium chlorate or chlorate of other elements.
It said storage and handling of these compounds is hazardous and can cause serious accidents. They are sensitive to the slightest amount of friction and are toxic to the skin. When coupled with potassium, they form explosives that lead to fires and deaths. The fire that took place at a temple in Kollam, Kerala, killed over 100 people in April 2016 was caused due to fireworks made from these banned substances.
The unstable and 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.
Usman Nasim is Research Associate, Clean Air and Sustainable Mobility, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi
The views expressed are personal