New Year Revellers Cautioned against Air Pollution from Firecrackers and Fireworks

An organization of environmental health advocates has teamed up with the country’s pulmonary experts in advising the public about the health risks associated with firecrackers and fireworks as the New Year’s eve revelry approaches.

The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental network addressing waste, chemical and climate issues, and the Philippine College of Chest Physicians (PCCP), a recognized authority in pulmonary medicine, jointly urged the public to shun pyrotechnics for health and safety.

According to the groups, the air pollution resulting from the massive detonation of firecrackers and fireworks represents a real health risk for all people, especially the most vulnerable population groups.

To emphasize the toxicity of emissions from the blasting of firecrackers and fireworks, EcoWaste Coalition’s AlerToxic Patrol from Buklod Tao and other groups gathered outside the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City wearing gas masks and holding “right to clean air” placards.

“The toxic smoke and dust resulting from pyrotechnics explosion contain many nasty pollutants, including suspended particulate matters, that can easily enter the lungs and put people’s health at risk,” said pulmonologist Dr. Maria Encarnita Blanco-Limpin, President of PCCP.

“These pollutants pose great risk to infants and young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with existing heart, neurological and respiratory problems,” she pointed out.

Aside from particulate matters, pyrotechnics-related pollutants include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, metal, nitrous and sulfuric oxides.

Limpin added that these toxic chemicals are also found in cigarettes that people, especially the vulnerable groups, are constantly exposed to every moment of their lives.

“We would like to remind our people to be vigilant about the dreaded diseases caused by these chemicals every day of the year. These are preventable ailments if people will be more aware and decisive, and with active government intervention,” Limpin explained.

For her part, Aileen Lucero, EcoWaste Coalition’s Iwas PapuToxic Campaigner, pointed out that “from all indications, the wild use of firecrackers and fireworks goes against our basic right to breathe safe air as protected under the Clean Air Act.”

“Our communities practically become huge gas chambers exposing all of us to a cocktail of chemical contaminants, the combined effects of which can be drastically toxic to health,” she lamented.

“We suggest that we honestly re-examine this toxic tradition, which is totally not in sync with ongoing local and global efforts to cut pollution, improve environmental quality and lessen the impacts of the climate crisis. Please heed P-Noy’s timely call for a safe celebration,” Lucero added.

President Benigno S. Aquino III had earlier said that “it is time for new thinking, let us all welcome the New Year safely with regard for life and the environment.”

Respiratory problems that can be activated or aggravated by pyrotechnics include allergic or chronic bronchitis, bronchial asthma, laryngitis, pneumonia, rhinitis and sinusitis, according to the Department of Health (DOH) Memorandum 2011-0301.

“People in the cities already inhale significant amounts of contaminant particles stemming from industrial, traffic and cigarette emissions, and the dense smoke caused by fireworks may aggravate their health conditions,” the health advisory pointed out.

According to the advisory, studies have shown that the levels of suspended particulate matter or fine dust and other pollutants increase to an unprecedented levels in air during fireworks displays.

SPM levels can cause throat, nose, eye related problems and can lead to headaches and reduced mental acuity.

The effects will be much more severe in people with heart, respiratory or nervous system disorders, the DOH warned.

SPM can also aggravate problem for people suffering from cold allergies or coughs and can also cause congestion of throat and chest, the DOH added.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had recently warned that pollution from pyrotechnics would set back the gains in improving the air quality, particularly in Metro Manila, where the level of total suspended particulates (TSPs) declined during the first three quarters of 2011.

Based on DENR’s monitoring, TSPs decreased from 130 ug/ncm to 120 ug/ncm in the third quarter of 2011 compared to the same period of 2010.