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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Green crackers safer, cheaper, as spectacular as regular ones: Harsh Vardhan

cities Updated: Oct 12, 2019 19:49 IST
Hindustantimes
         

Green crackers are less polluting and cheaper than the standard ones, but will the firework display be as bright and beautiful as the real thing? That’s question very fireworks enthusiast is asking after the eco-friendly e-crackers failed spectacularly last year because they seemed like a bad recording of fireworks going off.

Dr Harsh Vardhan, the minister for health, science and technology, insists that the less-polluting green firecrackers developed by eight labs led by Council of Scientific & Industrial Research’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-NEERI) lab in Nagpur provide a bang for the buck and produce light and sparks as festive as the real thing. “Tests have demonstrated that green crackers are no less illuminating or less attractive compared to the usual ones, children will not be disappointed,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan, in an exclusive interview.

Most people concerned about air pollution and the environment have voluntarily stopped using crackers during Diwali following the Supreme Court ban on polluting firecrackers in 2017 to air quality plummeting following the festival of lights in north India each year.

Following the ban, the Ministry of Science and Technology commissioned scientists at CSIR to work on less-toxic firecrackers to offer safer options to those for whom Diwali without fireworks is like a wedding without a feast.

In 2019, the Supreme Court brought back the ban with riders that restricted use to green crackers in a two-hour window between 8 pm ad 10 pm on Diwali, following which Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) defined green cracker norms in early 2019.

The green crackers developed by CSIR are low sound-and light-emitting firecrackers with at least 30% reduction in emissions at no extra cost. The categories covered are crackers, maroons, “atom bombs”, flowerpots, pencils and sparklers, all of which meet the PESO-approved green crackers norms. All packs carry green logo (QR coding) to track counterfeits. Traditional firecrackers use potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulphur to create sound, and barium nitrate (green) and strontium nitrate (red) for colour, and aluminium powder adds sparkle.

The firecrackers developed by CSIR-NEERI don’t contain any of the chemicals banned by the Supreme Court, such as lithium, arsenic, antimony, lead, barium and mercury, or use ash as desiccant (drying agent) or filler, charcoal use according to PESO’ specifications of explosives and pyrotechnics. Called Safe Water Releaser (SWAS), Safe Thermite Cracker (STAR) and Safe Minimal Aluminium (SAFAL), these crackers on explosion release water vapour and/or air to suppress the dust particles generated. SWAS and STAR are free of potassium nitrate and sulphur, which reduces sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emission by at least 30%; while those called SAFAL have minimal aluminium, which lowers particulate matter emission after lighting by at least 35%.

With at least 230 MoUs and 165 NDAs signed with firework manufacturers, adequate quantities expected to hit the market by Diwali, according to the health minister before Diwali. “Scientists did a fantastic job and had them ready in a year (in 2018) but the firecrackers did not hit market last Diwali because of several issues... the Supreme Court wanted a clear definition for awareness, legal and policy interventions, there were licencing and transfer-of-technology processes, and manufacturers had to be convinced, but now they are happily doing it. The (production) process is very actively on and the manufacturers and workers are happy. Firecrackers been in the country for hundreds of years and it’s a huge industry and the government has had to ensure not one job is lost,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan.

These crackers are tested and certified, with at least 530 emissions testing certificates being issued to fireworks manufactures for improved formulations. “The QR-coding symbol on the green cracker packaging allows you to check the authenticity by clicking a photo with your cellphone to get access to the site and description of the product. It ensures quality and weeds out fakes from the market,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan.

“The government must give adequate good-quality information, and if something harms health and the environment, the government has the duty to provide safe alternatives. We have done both,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan.

Health damage from chemicals in normal firecrackers

Chemical Environmental/health damage

Barium nitrate Fumes irritate respiratory tract.

Lithium Toxic and irritating fumes on burning

Antimony sulfide Toxic smoke, possible carcinogen

Lead Anaemia, weakness, kidney &brain damage, developmental delays

Mercury Toxic heavy metal

Sulphur dioxide Coughing, wheezing, chest tightness

Potassium nitrate Sneezing, coughing; headache, fatigue, dizziness

Nitrogen oxides Airways inflammation, lung damage, skin cancer, nerve damage

Aluminium dust Cough, shortness of breath, scarring of the lungs (pulmonary fibrosis)