Fire-cracker free Diwali: Bursting cracker is equal to lighting 500 cigarettes at once, show Pune researchers

Pune-based Chest Research Foundation (CRF) reported that burning of fire-crackers during the Diwali festival in a residential society of Pune produced very high levels of gaseous air pollutants

pune Updated: Oct 16, 2017 16:29 IST
Shrinivas Deshpande
Shrinivas Deshpande
Hindustan Times, Pune
Owing to the various anti-firecracker campaigns, the sale of firecrackers have gone down in Pune.(HT PHOTO)

At a time when awareness about damage done to environment from the burning of fire-crackers is taking the centre stage, a recent study shows that its is even more harmful for health. According to the study, burning a single cracker emits pollutants which equals to the burning 500cigarettes at a time.

Pune-based Chest Research Foundation (CRF) reported that burning of fire-crackers during the Diwali festival in a residential society of Pune produced very high levels of gaseous air pollutants. Levels of sulphur dioxide in the ambient air reached 200-times above the safety limit suggested by the World Health Organisation.

In a study conducted in November 2016 by CRF, along with Dr Rohan Shah and Dhammasagar Ujagare, postgraduate students of Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences from University of Pune, proved that the snake tablet, burnt for only nine seconds, produced the highest peak of PM 2.5 (64,500µg/m³)–the equivalent of smoke generated from 500 cigarettes and the ‘laad’, which burnt for 48 seconds, produced high PM 2.5 levels of 38,540 µg/m³, equivalent to particulate matter emitted by 300 cigarettes.The snake, laad and pul-pul were the top three PM 2.5 producers, while the anar produced the lowest amount of PM 2.5. The anar produced the lowest levels because the smoke was measured at a height of 3 ft and a distance of 6 ft or because it had a better combustion rate, the researchers inferred.

PM 2.5 are very tiny particles (less than 2.5 microns in diameter). Because of its fineness, they are more dangerous. They have the ability to accumulate in human organs and blood and the ability to reach the deeper portions of the lung, damaging it.

Dr Sneha Limaye, senior scientist from CRF who supervised the study, said that,“if people ask us which are the most harmful fireworks in terms of PM 2.5 air pollution, then we can advise people to avoid burning these fire crackers. Children, in particular, burn the fulzhadi, pulpul and the snake tablet barely a foot or two away from them and in doing so, inhale a large number of smoke particles that reach deeper into their lungs.The levels of PM 2.5 were measured only when an individual firecracker was burnt, but in real terms, many people burn many firecrackers together, which means the cumulative levels of PM 2.5 could reach ‘extremely high levels’. ”

According to WHO, small particulate pollution has health impacts even at very low concentrations so much so that no threshold has been identified below which no damage to health is observed. Therefore, the WHO 2005 guideline limits aimed to achieve the lowest concentrations of PM possible. WHO has a lower standard of 25 µg/m³ for PM 2.5, however,India has set a 24-hour mean standard of 60 µg/m³.

Researchers burnt different types of crackers, each individually, five times and then collected the average reading of each in an area that simulated the front portion of a house area. Firecrackers not only release particulate matter but also other harmful gases such as nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. PM2.5 levels were measured using ‘Thermo PDR 1200’, USA, a light scattering photometer. All the firecrackers were kept at a distance that one would normally keep, for example, the fulzadi was kept at a distance of 1 feet, while the laad and anar were kept at a distance of 6 feet.

“Burning of firecrackers cause both gaseous as well as particulate matter air pollution. Both are harmful for lungs, eyes, nose and the heart. It is time that we understand the seriousness of air pollution produced during the burning of firecrackers as the extremely high levels of air pollutants generated during the burning of firecrackers worsen asthma, allergic diseases of the eyes and nose, respiratory tract infections, pneumonias and heart attacks,” said Dr Sundeep Salvi, the director of CRF.

Name of Cracker Peak levels of PM2.5 in µg/m³ Cumulative levels forPM2.5 µg/m³

Snake 64500 64849

Laad of 1000 38540 47789

Pulpul 28950 34068

Fuljadi 10390 10898

Chakri 9490 10475

Anar 4860 5640

First Published: Oct 15, 2017 23:42 IST