The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Hala Kha­laf

The bangs and fizzes of fire­works are rapidly re­plac­ing loud ren­di­tions of count­downs as the defin­ing sound of New Year’s Eve cel­e­bra­tions around the world, with city land­marks – ev­ery­thing from the Palm Jumeirah to the Syd­ney Opera House to the Eif­fel Tower in Paris – be­com­ing stages for in­creas­ingly spec­tac­u­lar py­rotech­nic dis­plays. The big­ger the psy­che­delic aerial dis­plays, the bet­ter.

This year, the Burj Khal­ifa is do­ing away with a fire­works dis­play and in­stead promis­ing a light and laser show like no other to ring in the New Year. Bri­gadier Ab­dul­lah Ali Al Ghaith, di­rec­tor of the gen­eral depart­ment of or­gan­i­sa­tions, pro­tec­tive se­cu­rity and emer­gency, has re­port­edly said that “lasers are safer than fire­works”. Fire­works, he said, are “old meth­ods” and a light show is herald­ing a new era. Not to men­tion that by elim­i­nat­ing fire­works from the New Year’s Eve cel­e­bra­tions, Emaar and the Burj Khal­ifa are tak­ing a ma­jor stance for en­vi­ron­men­tal safety.

Here’s the thing: fire­works are noth­ing more than a pretty pol­lu­tant, and en­joy­ing them means there’s an en­vi­ron­men­tal price to pay. When fire­works light up the sky with dots, dashes, flashes and blooms of colour and bril­liant white brightness; there is some­thing mys­te­ri­ous at play. Dif­fer­ent chem­i­cals added to the ba­sic in­gre­di­ents pro­duce dif­fer­ent colours and sounds. For in­stance, bar­ium salts makes green, while cop­per salts make blue, iron fil­ings cre­ate a gold flut­ter ef­fect and potas­sium ben­zoate burns in a rapidly os­cil­lat­ing man­ner cre­at­ing a whis­tle noise. Fire­works are, es­sen­tially, all about chem­istry.

Fire­work smoke is rich in tiny me­tal par­ti­cles. These met­als make fire­work colours, in much the same way as Vic­to­rian sci­en­tists iden­ti­fied chem­i­cals by burn­ing them in a Bun­sen flame; so blue from cop­per, red from stron­tium or lithium, and bright green or white from bar­ium com­pounds.

There is yet more smoke from potas­sium and alu­minium com­pounds, which are used to pro­pel fire­works into the air. Per­chlo­rates are also used as fire­work pro­pel­lants; these are a fam­ily of very re­ac­tive chlo­rine and oxy­gen com­pounds, which were used by Nasa to boost space shut­tles at launch.

All this to say that fire­works can lead to sub­stan­tial air pol­lu­tion prob­lems, not to men­tion that what goes up has to come down. Fire­works that fall to the ground con­tain residues of un­burnt pro­pel­lants and colourants, while par­ti­cle pol­lu­tion in the air even­tu­ally de­posits on the ground or gets washed out by rain. World­wide, fire­work pol­lu­tion re­mains unchecked.

No fire­works at Burj Khal­ifa

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