Fireworks produce 2,050 tonnes of particulate matter per year

Particulate matter air pollution is especially high on New Year's Day

Kleine Böller auf der Straße.Click to enlarge
Even small fireworks can cause serious air pollution.
Source: Jonas Stoll / Umweltbundesamt

Particulate matter pollution in the early hours of New Year's Day is usually at some of the highest levels of the whole year, especially in metropolitan areas and cities – due to New Year's fireworks and emissions of particulate matter. It was previously assumed that 4,500 tonnes of particulate matter emitted by fireworks are to blame for the poor air quality. New calculations now show that it is just under half that amount, i.e. around 2,050 tonnes of particulate matter per year, which causes the high levels of pollution caused by the setting off of fireworks. Fireworks therefore account for almost one percent of total annual PM10 emissions and almost two percent of total annual PM2.5 emissions. This new calculation is based on experiments conducted to determine emission factors which provide more realistic values of particulate emissions than previously used data. The change in methodology is the result of a specialist exchange between UBA and the German Pyrotechnical Industry Association (VPI).

The Pyrotechnical Industry Association (VPI) commissioned an independent testing institute to carry out emission measurements during a fireworks display from which they derived emission factors. The results of this experimental study were submitted to UBA. The procedure developed on the basis of the study and in discussions between VPI and UBA to determine particulate emissions from fireworks is valid and technically correct. UBA will use the emissions determined according to the new methodology for the first time for the purposes of air pollutant emissions reporting in 2021. UBA also plans to incorporate the new calculation method in the EMEP Guidebook for reporting under UNECE and NEC. The VPI will shortly publish its study results in a scientific journal.

Breathing particulate matter is hazardous to human health – whether it is short-term high, or long-term exposure. The effects range from temporary impairment of the respiratory tract and increased medication dosage for asthmatics to increased hospital admissions due to respiratory and cardiovascular problems and increased mortality. Even though much less is known about the acute effects of short-term elevated particulate matter pollution, such as on New Year's Eve, than about long-term elevated concentrations in the air we breathe, any reduction and avoidance of particulate matter emissions is meaningful and recommendable for the sake of health.

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