A new threat has been added to the risks posed by fireworks — they can release toxic metals that can damage your lungs.
These metals give fireworks their colors, according to researchers who found harmful levels of lead in two of 12 types of commercially available fireworks they tested.
“While many are careful to protect themselves from injury from explosions, our results suggest that inhaling firework smoke may cause longer-term damage, a risk that has been largely ignored,” said study senior author Terry Gordon, a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
Gordon and his colleagues collected emissions from a dozen fireworks commonly used in the United States by setting them off in a lab chamber, then exposed mice and human lung cells to low doses of the particles, to mimic an average person’s daily exposure to air pollutants.
Along with the lead finding, they found that particle emissions from five types of fireworks significantly increased oxidation, a chemical process in the body that can damage or even kill cells if left unchecked.
Fireworks often contain titanium, strontium and copper, in addition to lead, according to the researchers.
They also analyzed 14 years’ worth of air quality samples from dozens of sites across the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency throughout each year, and found that levels of toxic metals were higher in samples taken around Independence Day and New Year’s Eve celebrations than at other times of the year.
“Although people are only exposed to these substances for a short time each year, they are much more toxic than the pollutants we breathe every day,” Gordon said in an NYU Langone news release.
He said the findings will be shared with local health officials, fireworks makers, the EPA and other regulatory agencies to alert them to the potential risk.
Gordon said this study is only the first step in this area of research because it just looked at the potential effects of one-time exposure to toxic metals in fireworks.
Repeated exposure is likely a larger concern, he said.
The study was published online July 1 in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology.
The National Safety Council offers advice on firework safety.
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