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Firecrackers can affect development of unborn babies, kids: Pollution board study

Ingredients such as nitrates, metals used in firecrackers are toxic and long-term exposure increases risk of cancer, say CPCB findings

mumbai Updated: Oct 12, 2017 12:35 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
MUMBAI DIWALI,MUMBAI FIRECRACKERS,MUMBAI NOISE POLLUTION
Tests show that firecrackers being sold in Mumbai this year are noisier and more polluting.(HT File)

People exposed to firecrackers, which commonly have copper, sulphur and charcoal in them, are at a higher risk of suffering from diseases that can lead to cancer, while the presence of nitrates can cause developmental disorders in unborn babies and children, a study by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has revealed.

The CPCB’s study, which came out last month, analysed various firecrackers available in the market for their chemical composition and health impact. The findings were submitted in the form of an affidavit in September to the Supreme Court, which has since banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi.

For the study, commonly used firecrackers were selected on the basis of four main categories set by the Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organization (PESO): atom bomb, Chinese crackers (not related to the country), maroons and garland crackers. “We studied their combustive features, broke down crackers on the basis of common ingredients and checked for their effects post combustion,” said D Saha, additional director, in charge of air quality, CPCB.

Key Ingredients In Firecrackers
  • Fuel: Charcoal is the most common fuel used in fireworks.
  • Oxidising agents: The function of an oxidising agent is to produce the oxygen needed in order to burn the mixture in the cracker.
  • Reducing agents: It needs to burn the oxygen provided by the oxidising agents.
  • Regulators: Metals are often added to regulate the speed of the reaction.
  • Binders: This paste-like mixture is used to hold the firecracker mix together.
  • Colourings agents: Different chemicals and metals are used to produce different colours.

Six primary ingredients were identified in these firecrackers: fuel (charcoal is most commonly used); oxidising agents such as nitrates and chlorates; reducing agents such as sulphur; colouring agents such as calcium, barium, copper, sodium, strontium, lithium and aluminium; and binders such as dextrin (for glue and paper).

Nitrates and chlorates can lead to bio-accumulation [increase in the concentration of a chemical in a biological organism over time] as the chemicals remain airborne for days after combustion. They pose a developmental danger for children and unborn babies, and are poisonous for plants and animals as well, the study said.

Other unsafe ingredients include charcoal, which releases toxic dust and is a carcinogenic sulphur-coal compound. “Colouring agents such as copper that releases a blue colour on combustion can also lead to bio-accumulation and causes cancer risk. Green colour released from barium is poisonous as its fumes can irritate the respiratory tract,” the study said. “Dextrin on combustion forms glycogen, which can irritate the respiratory tract, and cause headaches. It can also damage the liver, kidneys, the central nervous system, and is carcinogenic.”

All these firecrackers have metallic oxides and are dangerous. “These chemicals can cause permanent damage to the lungs, especially in children,” said Saha. “With the rise in population in megacities like Mumbai and Delhi, the use of firecrackers is increasing year on year. Ten years ago, the use of firecrackers was an average of 50 grams per family, and this has risen significantly. The environment does not have enough carrying capacity to handle this much combustion, so regulations are a must for all megacities.”

The solution may be for people in big cities such as Mumbai to celebrate Diwali by bursting firecrackers as a community event, rather than every family buying and bursting them separately.

As reported in HT’s October 5 edition, a pre-Diwali firecracker testing operation conducted in Mumbai on October 4 revealed that explosives being sold this year have higher noise and air pollution levels. “We’ve found that a tremendous amount of chemicals is being released from a few crackers this year. Directions have been issued to the department to analyse them. Once their chemical components are studied, we will send our recommendations to the Controller of Explosives in Nagpur,” said VM Motghare, joint director, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB).

Activists believe that the sale and use of firecrackers should be banned in India. “It is in the interest of the environment and people’s health that firecrackers are banned across the country,” said Sumaira Abulali, convener, Awaaz Foundation. “The issue of firecrackers is becoming increasingly politicised, and their impact on people’s health is not being considered. It is very important to involve citizens to decide what is right for them.”

First Published: Oct 12, 2017 12:35 IST