Oh! You are all going to hate me for this one!
Fireworks! That wonder of wonders that has entertained us as spellbound kids every Fourth of July and every New Year requires a little more attention than oohing and ahhing over the beautiful patterns and colors. This chart shows us what creates that magic.
The “stars” encase various metal coated pellets floating in an arranged pattern in black powder. Each star is strategically placed in a shell with more black powder, a bursting charge, and an ignitor. The shell is placed in a semi-buried mortar with more black powder, a fuse and an ignitor.
When lit, off it goes! Exploding black powder, chemicals and metal everywhere! And now they are micro sized.
All fireworks contain small packets filled with metal salts and metal oxides, which react to produce an array of colors. Those wonder producing colors are created by varying amounts of copper chloride to make blue, barium chlorate to make green, and strontium and lithium salts to make red. Secondary colors are made by mixing the ingredients of their primary-color relatives.
When heated, the atoms of each element in the mix absorb energy, causing its electrons to rearrange from their lowest energy state to a higher “excited” state. The most common elements are carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2). After exploding, it all becomes (PM10), which are particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers in diameter. Ten micrometers is less than the width of a single human hair, small enough to get into our lungs.
The beautiful image introducing this week’s blog is a Green Bee Formation. Its toxic green sheen comes from randomly packed barium chlorate filled stars in small tubes within a spherical shell. As the heat increases, the pressure in the tubes sends the stars zipping out haphazardly in different directions for different amounts of time and distances.
Jim Souza of Pyro Spectaculars has a really fun site that describes how many of the different formations are designed. Check out his photo gallery! Its not quite like being under the stars but its really cool! http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/g203/how-fireworks-work-photo-gallery/?
Hmmm…..so what should we do? Awareness or wonder?
The EPA has never made an issue out of fireworks pollution because we are only exposed to it once or twice a year. They consider it of little harm. However, air quality standards after a fireworks display show extremely elevated levels of PM10, CO, NOx, SO2, which are banned and routinely monitored by The Clean Air Act. http://www.livescience.com/51408-july-4-air-pollution-fireworks.html
Some environmental groups have caused the cancellation of fireworks shows held over water because the fallout remains on the surface and travels downriver. Now, The Clean Water Act comes into play.
How You Can Help:
- Contact your local officials if you are concerned.
- The Clean Air Act permits state and local governments to enact laws relating to the prevention and control of outdoor air pollution so your concerns will be heard.
- The Clean Water Act regulates pollutants discharged by fireworks.
- Your local police department can enforce any laws pertaining to fireworks.
- Educate others by sharing the pollution dangers of fireworks especially to elders and young children.
- Fireworks can be air-launched utilizing compressed air instead of gunpowder. They can also be made with low-gunpowder formulations.
- Low-smoke pyrotechnics produce practically none of the smoke or ash that traditional black powder fireworks do.
- Avoid fireworks made in China. There is a pattern of using banned or toxic chemicals without regard for safety.
- Firework drones are capturing the sparks upclose! http://www.komonews.com/home/video/Watch-Drone-gets-amazing-close-up-view-of-fireworks-display-266076891.html
- Position your viewing upwind. Or, view them from your kayaks in the middle of a salt pond in Rhode Island!
- Happy Fourth of July! The commemoration of July 4, 1776, when the Continental Congress adopted our Declaration of Independence.