Happy Chinese New Year! (And let’s not forget about pollution)

It’s Chinese New Year soon, and I thought I could have a post about firecrackers. In particular, firecrackers causing pollution (after all, this is a pollution blog!)

Firecrackers are banned in Singapore, but they are still rampant in cities such as Beijing. According to the International Business Times, Beijing’s city government has attempting to cut down firecrackers in the city. While this may not be such a big deal in Singapore (Firecrackers were completely banned since 1 August 1972 when the Dangerous Fireworks Act came into operation), in many other places firecrackers are still seen as part of the Chinese New Year tradition — the loud sounds and lights are believed to ward away evil spirits.

For Beijing’s case now, other than firecrackers being a fire hazard, it is a major source of street pollution with red confetti expected to be scattered across the streets, and with the weather this coming Friday (the 2nd day of the Chinese New Year) expected to be windless, city authorities have anticipated that smoke from firecrackers are likely to persist in the air for a long period of time. These smoke, a result from combustion, contains pollutants such as PM2.5, which is harmful to health. As cited by Wang et al (2007), these fine aerosols which consist of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, suspended particles, and traces of heavy metal poses threats to human health. This study also highlights the problem of air pollution due to these fireworks, by drawing on the chemistry of these fireworks, and found ions, metals and black carbon in aerosol samples. Pollutants were also found to be much higher during the festive season than from other days.

Results from this report tallied with observations over other years; for instance, Channel News Asia reported that on Lunar New Year’s Eve, 2013, the concentration of PM2.5 grew from 150 micrograms per cubic metre to 346 micrograms per cubic metre within an hour due to the fireworks.

While some residents are grateful for the authorities’ decision to cut down on firecrackers, some remained disgruntled. One resident said

“If the authorities are serious about tackling pollution, they should tackle industrial pollution. Setting off fireworks is just a once-a-year event. It is not as bad as industrial pollution.” (Source: CNA)

I felt that this line of reasoning, is unfortunately, problematic. If we have to tackle pollution issues, it takes more than just managing large pollution sources, and it definitely takes more than the authorities to do their job. As citizens, we do have responsibility towards our environment — small actions such as cleaning up after our trash, using environmentally friendly cars if we can afford them, minimising our use of plastic goods, and in this case, reducing the number of firecrackers may not seem to matter, but the effects add up over the long run. Admittedly, cultural practices may be hard to change…

In any case, happy Chinese new year to all and may you all have an auspicious year ahead! 🙂

Happy Chinese New Year!

Sources:

Channel News Asia (2015). Beijing Air Quality set to worsen as Lunar New Year Approaches. [Online] Retrieved from: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/beijing-air-quality-set/1665138.html [Last accessed: 17 February 2015]

Sim, S. (2015). Beijing Chinese New Year Fireworks spark crackdown over air pollution concerns. International Business Times. [Online] Retrieved from: http://www.ibtimes.com/beijing-chinese-new-year-fireworks-spark-crackdown-over-air-pollution-concerns-1818664 [Last accessed: 17 February 2015]

Singapore Infopedia (2013).Regulating the use of Fireworks. [Online] Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_2013-10-04_181113.html [Last accessed: 17 February 2015]

Wang, Y., Zhuang, G., Xu, C., and An, Z. (2007) The air pollution caused by the burning of fireworks during the lantern festival in Beijing. Atmospheric Environments. 41(2). pp. 417- 431.

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One thought on “Happy Chinese New Year! (And let’s not forget about pollution)

  1. Pingback: Some updates on pollution by firecrackers | Smoky Streets

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