Even green firecrackers have toxic barium, chem analysis finds
Barium is used in crackers to produce the colour green in fireworks. It also acts as a stabilising agent to give firecrackers a longer shelf-life.
Of 17 varieties of popular firecrackers that were analysed for chemical components by city-based NGO Awaaz Foundation, 12 were found to contain barium, a toxic metal whose use in firecrackers was banned by the Supreme Court (SC) in 2018.
Barium is used in crackers to produce the colour green in fireworks. It also acts as a stabilising agent to give firecrackers a longer shelf-life. Several of the crackers analysed were also found to contain varying amounts of arsenic, lead, sulphur and chlorine, which have been banned under the Centre’s Hazardous Chemical Rules (2000).
The commercially available crackers were randomly selected by Awaaz Foundation and sent to independent laboratory in the city for chemical analysis last week. The results of the analysis were released on Saturday.
Worryingly, many of these brands of firecrackers are being sold in the market as ‘green crackers’ – here, green refers to their apparent eco-friendliness -- based on criteria developed by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). What’s more, the packaging of the firecrackers did not state that barium was one of the ingredients, environmentalist and convenor of the Awaaz Foundation Sumaira Abdulali, said.
In a letter to the chief secretary and additional chief secretary, Maharashtra, and the commissioner of police, Mumbai, Abdulali on Saturday urged the authorities to take steps to enforce the apex court’s ban on barium, whose ingestion can lead to severe gastrointestinal distress, including vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, sometimes leading to a possibly fatal condition called hypokalaemia (low potassium levels in the body).
“Last year, in 2021, the presence of barium was openly displayed on firecracker packaging. This year, none of the boxes mentioned the barium in its ingredients, although most crackers continue to contain barium,” the letter pointed out.
In 2021, the SC expressed serious concern about the effect of hazardous chemicals on people’s health, placing on record Awaaz Foundation’s findings in order from October 2021.
“We reiterate again that the directions issued by this court... including banning the use of Barium Salts in firecrackers and manufacturing and selling joined firecrackers... If it is found that any banned firecrackers are manufactured, sold and used in any particular area, the chief secretary of the concerned state(s), the secretary (Homes) of the concerned state(s) and the commissioner of police of the concerned area, district superintendent of police of the concerned area and the SHO/Police Officer in-charge of the concerned police station shall be held personally liable,” the SC had remarked at the time.
Abdulali expressed serious concern over the chemical analyses of these fireworks, which run the gamut from sprinklers to wheels, bombs, flower pots, and joined firecrackers. “It is a public health hazard, for consumers and the labour involved in manufacturing and transporting them. These results are evidence enough that manufacturing standards are not being upheld at all. Producers have simply eliminated barium from the list of ingredients on the packaging to avoid scrutiny,” she said.
VM Motghare, joint director (air quality), MPCB, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.