There is a ring of festivity in the air at this time of the year. Dussehra, the celebration of good over evil is observed with much fanfare all over the country. The most symbolic event of the festival is the burning of Ravana effigy, with an elaborate display of fireworks and crackers.
However, the temporary thrill of witnessing fireworks unfortunately also leaves behind a bigger and more long-term impact on the environment and human health. Yes, air and noise pollution is a serious side effect caused by the bursting of crackers and release of toxic substances in the air.
The high level of noise created by the crackers is more than a mere annoyance. It can cause stress, hypertension, sleep disturbance and hearing loss in many people. The effects of crackers are especially severe on very young children, the elderly, and animals.
The Government has issued notifications under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, to control the level of noise from firecrackers. Further, the Supreme Court issued an interim order in 1999 that states the maximum noise level from firecrackers should not exceed 125 dB and 145 dB, calling strict restrictions on the manufacturing processes of firecrackers. Also, there is a ban on the use of firecrackers between 10pm - 6am. However, how much of these rules are actually followed is anybody’s guess.
Firecrackers are made up of elements such as copper, aluminum, cadmium, sulphur, barium, etc. that are released into the atmosphere when burnt. These give the bright colours everyone loves to watch in a firework display. These also react with atmospheric oxygen to further produce more harmful compounds (for example, sulphur dioxide). These toxic substances remain suspended in the air for a long time, or settle on trees and other objects, before making their way into the human body. Respiratory tract symptoms like coughing, irritation, wheezing, etc. are most common effects of inhalation of toxins, though there can be even more serious damage.
Let’s take a look at how these elements individually impact human health:
- Cadmium can lead to anaemia and kidney damage
- Copper causes respiratory tract irritation
- Magnesium can result in metal fume fever
- Zinc causes vomiting
- Lead adversely affects the nervous system
- Nitrate can impair the nervous system
The negative impact of a firework display that lasts only a few minutes can be quite long-term, considering the scale at which the festival is celebrated. Thus, keep young children and elderly safe from the direct hazards of fireworks and look for idols made from more eco-friendly materials. Let’s pledge to conquer the evils of pollution this Dussehra!