Cracker Ban Puts Lid on Toxic Brew, a Step in Right Direction
The ban on Diwali crackers does not ruin the festival of lights. Experts say that on the contrary, the ban will actually spare citizens from lethal doses of toxic substances that are notmeasuredinroutinepollutioncheckssuch as mercury, lead, and aluminium.
As for those who value clean air—the apex court order is just a good first step. It is an interventionthatmakesmuchmoresensethan stepssuchasthetemporarybanonnewdiesel vehicles, the odd-even scheme, environment specialists say.
“Thiswillplayacrucialroleinregulatingair pollution in the region and reduce the impact onhumanhealth,”saidAjayMathur,Director General of New Delhi-based think tank, The Energy and Resources Institute, or TERI.
The order, restores the pristine glory of Diwali, when people celebrated the festival with earthen lamps and a few sparklers; but inrecentdecades,thefestivalhasbeenmarred byostentatioususeoffirecrackersthatcontain lethaldosesofchemicals,andrelease poisonousgases,puttingpeopleto risk of cancer, skin disorder.
Bursting crackers was a majorcontributortothedark 10-day haze that enveloped Delhi last year, with poisonous substances at alarming levels,hesaid.“Thebanbythe Supreme Court would ensure that unlike previous years, Delhi does not gasp for clean air after Diwali, and those suffering from respiratory diseases do not have to consider leaving the city during this time,” Mathur said.
Data recorded by monitoring stations shows that the levels of toxinsthatcanaccumulateinhumans,animals and plants, jumps three to four times the average levels of October and November.
Unlike other experts, Mathur, who has beenapartofinternationalgroupofscientists working with the Intergovermental Panel on ClimateChange,stressesthebanonfirecrackers is just a first step. “With meteorological conditionsnotbeingfavourablefordispersing dustandparticulatematterinashortinterval, thebanisastepintherightdirection,”hesaid.
Thosearguingthatthebanwilldiminishfestivefervourwouldbenefitfromaquickglance atthetoxicbrewthatgoesintoaseeminglyinnocuous firecracker. Every firecracker from the simple phuljhari to the more elaborate rocket requires oxidising agents to produce theoxygenrequiredtoburnthemixture,areducingagenttoburntheoxygen,aregulatorto determinethespeedofthereactionandcolouring,andbinderstoholdthemixturetogether. Materials used include nitrates, sulphur, charcoal,aluminium,titanium,copper,strontium, barium, dextrin and paron. Virtually every organ in the body is at risk especially given the huge quantities of firecrackers that Sr Ca Elements Ba Na Cu mg
Metal compounds which produce on intense colour when burned. Some are listed above Usually nitrates, chlorates or perchlorates; required to provide oxygen for the combustion of fuel Usage Allows firework to burn; gunpowder, (potassium nitrate, sulfur & charcoal), is often used Hold the mixture together; the most commonly used is a starch dextrin, dampened with water
Source: Compound interest 2015 www.compoundchem.com are burst during Diwali. JusticesMadanBLokurand Deepak Gupta, who gave the firecracker ban judgment, observed in the five days that Diwaliiscelebrated,roughly10 lakhkgoffirecrackersareburst each day. InitsaffidavittotheSupreme Court, Central Board of Pollution C o nt r o l , the country’s apex pollution regulator, analysed the four commonlysoldtypesoffirecrackers—atom bombs, Chinese crackers, maroons, and garlandcrackers.Itfoundthatthe fourkeyingredientsusedwere aluminiumpowder,whichgives firecrackersitsbrilliantflames and white sparks, sulphur, potassium nitrate, and barium nitrate. These ingredients, according to the scientists at CPCB,areamajorconstituentof thesmogthatformsonbursting of firecrackers and hangs over the city like an impenetrable cloakfordaysafterDiwali.This smog has high levels of sulphur oxidesandnitrogenoxides,and particulate matter containing heavy metals such as lead, mercury, strontium, lithium, and aluminium. The CPCB says that a “major concern being the inappropriate stoichiometric amounts of the ingredients in making common firecrackers.”Whatworriestheregulatorsinthe quantities in which the ingredients are used sodium nitrate sodium chlorate cryolite Effect tomakefirecrackerslouder,brighterand evenlongerlasting.Theendresultisthat everyfirecrackerburstaddstothealready heavy pollution load. TERI’s point person onairpollution,SumitSharma,says“The ban will certainly lead to lesser pollution levels, especially during the days after Diwali.”
Scientists have known for long about the contributionoffirecrackerstomakingtheair dirty and the harmful health impacts of the particularbrewofpollutants.In2003,Khaiwal Ravindra and his two colleagues at departmentofenvironmentalsciencesandengineering at Guru Jambeshwar University studied the effect of fire crackers on the air quality of Hisar City in Haryana during Diwali. They found a clear link—the levels of sulphur dioxides increased tenfold while that of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter increased two to three folds. Similar studies have been undertakenbyscientistsfromtheMeghnadSaha Institute of Technology in Howrah, All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Sanitation, Kolkata, and Jadavpur University. They too recorded an exponential spike in pollution. Their 2007 study, which was restricted to the Howraharea,revealedanincreaseintheincidenceofcardiovascularmortalityandmorbidity of 125% and 175%, respectively.
The Supreme Court’s judgment comes as a validation to these researchers. Bhargav Krishna, co-founder of Care for Air, and researcher with the Centre for Environmental Health at the Public Health Foundation of India, says this is an important judgment as “it places public health front and centre, ahead of economic interests of anyparticulargroupandtheimportanceofthisframecannotbe overemphasised.”
But not everyone believes that the state governments have treated the issue with the seriousness it requires. Atul Goyal, president of the United Residents Joint Action of Delhi (URJA) argues that Delhi government needs to step up its public engagement on the issue. “The government needs to put the information on the harm caused by the firecrackers much more aggressively. For the most part people are ignorant of what goes into the firecrackers and how it hurts them. The information needs to be hammered into them to change people’s mindset.”
TheSupremeCourtjudgment, Krishna explains “is a first and important step in a broad swathe of actions required to address the air pollution issue in Delhi and the region.” To effectively control of air pollution in the city, stringent measures are requiredforothermajorsources,whichemit toxic pollutants all-round the year.
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