(Watchdog to campaign for the human right to a non-toxic environment)
4 December 2022, Quezon City. To kick off its yearly campaign for a zero waste and toxics-free observance of Christmas and New Year festivities, the environmental watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition today drew attention to chemicals and pollutants associated with firecrackers and fireworks.
As part of its “Iwas Paputoxic” campaign, the group identified several hazardous substances of concern that are present in firecracker and firework products, as well as in the emissions from detonating or lighting such products, noting “exposure to hazardous substances threatens a wide range of other rights, including the rights to bodily integrity, health and healthy environment.”
Held annually starting in 2006, the group’s “Iwas Paputoxic” outreach in communities and schools is held to amplify the government’s “Iwas Paputok” drive led by the Department of Health (DOH) and to raise awareness about the dangers posed by firecrackers and fireworks to life, limb, property, and the environment.
“The easing of COVID-19 restrictions might entice more individuals, families and neighborhoods into lighting firecrackers and fireworks to make Christmas ‘merry’ and the New Year ‘happy’ amid spiraling prices and the lingering impacts of recent calamities,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition. “Aside from the highly publicized injuries to the eyes, hands and other body parts caused by firecrackers and fireworks, these products are packed with chemicals like carbon, potassium nitrate, sulfur and other substances of concern, which can adversely affect the right of every Filipino to a clean and non-toxic environment.”
Lucero recalled the chemical screening conducted in 2011 by the EcoWaste Coalition on assorted firecrackers bought by the group from street vendors in Divisoria, Manila, which were found to contain significant quantities of barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, manganese and zinc. None of the firecrackers screened provided information about these chemicals and their health impacts.
According to information obtained from the DOH’s website, exposure to these chemicals is harmful to health. For example, cadmium can irritate the respiratory tract and damage the liver and kidneys; chromium may cause skin damage and hypersensitivity, nasal mucosa ulceration and nasal septum perforation ; copper dust fumes when inhaled may cause irritation in the respiratory tract; lead may affect the blood, the brain and the central nervous system; manganese dioxide fumes can cause lung irritation, pneumonia, with possible Parkinsonian symptoms, rigidity, muscular pains and tremor; and that zinc can cause metal fume fever.
“The smoke from the blasting of firecrackers and fireworks are loaded with by-product pollutants such as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and suspended particulate matter (SPM),” Lucero also pointed out, adding that the chemical smog can last for hours and even days after the revelry.
As confirmed by the DOH, these pollutants “increase to unprecedented levels in air during fireworks displays” particularly affecting population groups that are most vulnerable to chemical exposures, including children and pregnant women.
Exposure to SPM, according to health authorities, can cause nose, throat and eye related problems, aggravate the conditions of those suffering for cold allergies or coughs; result in headaches and reduced mental acuity, and bring about a variety of respiratory problems such as allergic or chronic bronchitis, bronchial asthma, laryngitis, pneumonia, and rhinitis.
In the coming days, the EcoWaste Coalition will shed light on the other effects of blasting firecrackers and fireworks for the information and guidance of the people. It will also espouse safer ways of celebrating the festive season with public health and the environment, including the welfare of animals, in mind.