Expert discusses fireworks’ impact on air quality, health

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SALT LAKE CITY - Every year you, or someone in your neighborhood, likely lights fireworks outside their home. However, depending on where they are lit and who they are lit around, those fireworks could be causing some health risks.

"The closer you are to the fireworks, if you're holding a sparkler, then you're breathing in particulate waste and soot," said Donna Kemp Spangler, the spokesperson for the Utah Department of Air Quality. "Those particles could get lodged in your lungs."

Spangler said there are about 30 air quality monitoring systems around the state that measure the concentration of particles caused by smoke. She says, normally, those levels read around 35 micrograms per cubic meter, but during the days around the Fourth of July, those levels increase nearly 5 times as much to reach 157.

"At times, those levels spike up real quick, in a period of 24 hours," Spangler said.

The kind of fireworks people light may make a difference on the concentration as well. A firework stand owner in Sugar House says certain kinds of fireworks, like smoke bombs and grenades, tend to release the most amount of visible smoke, far more than the fireworks that launch up in the air.

"These fireworks could produce enough smoke to fill a neighborhood block," the owner said.

People can legally light fireworks from July 1st to July 7th, and again from July 21st to July 27th. So, for those who have difficulty breathing or have asthma, it may be worth noting when others may be lighting fireworks. Spangler suggests taking in professional displays for those who want to avoid health complications.

"The commercial fireworks do tend to go up into the atmosphere directly and get dispersed," Spangler said.