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Cracker Fumes Can Cause Severe Respiratory Problems

The auspicious festival Diwali is here. While the joyous festival brings families and friends together over light, love, gifts, pictures, and sweets, it is also a festival that brings with it the specificity of burning crackers.

Along with all the happiness and light brought forth by the eventful day, the health concerns it brings forth must be taken into serious consideration. Packed with various chemicals such as antimony, lithium, mercury, arsenic and lead several others, firecrackers are a bane to the environment and yourself.

Upon being released into the atmosphere, these chemicals interact with your body and end up developing various health problems, with respiratory problems being the primary one. While bursting crackers have become an integral part of Diwali, so has the air and noise pollution in recent years and the doubled-up respiratory issues, studies reveal.

Elements In Fireworks

Including the Supreme Court banned chemicals, these are the components that are used in the production of firecrackers [1] .

  • Aluminium
  • Antimony
  • Barium
  • Calcium
  • Cadmium
  • Carbon
  • Chlorine
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Lithium
  • Lead
  • Magnesium
  • Oxygen
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Sulphur
  • Strontium
  • Titanium
  • Zinc

The above-mentioned chemicals and compounds are used to give colours and produce smoke effects for the crackers. They are responsible for various health problems - copper causes irritation in the respiratory tract, cadmium reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, leading to anaemia, the lead content negatively affects the nervous system, zinc causes metal fume fever and also induces vomiting and burning of sodium when combined with that of moisture causes burns [2] [3] .

Out of all the negative impact these chemicals have on your health, the most crucial one is the impact it can have on your respiratory system.

Lung Diseases Caused By Breathing In Polluted Air

Impact Of Firecrackers On Your Respiratory System

The fumes and particulate matter (PM) that are released from the burning of crackers triggers increased cough, sputum, throat irritation, breathlessness and also worsen pre-existing asthma, COPD, increases risk of respiratory infection etc.

Elderly and children with asthma and bronchitis are very vulnerable with 30 - 40 per cent increase in their chest symptoms during Diwali needing emergency room visits. The fumes and particulate matter also end up staying in the atmosphere for a very long time and enhance the risk of respiratory illness.

As aforementioned, all types of crackers are composed of chemical components, that is, the base used for burning such as charcoal, sulphur and potassium nitrates, chlorate and perchlorate, magnesium, nitrogen dioxide, aluminium, lead, carbon monoxide and various metals salts added to give a variety of colours.

These chemicals produce a lot of reactive oxygen species, which in turn induce oxidative stress in the lungs resulting in powerful cellular and inflammatory response, leading to severe short term and long-term health concerns. These chemical substances if inhaled can accumulate and eventually, damage the functioning of the body.

Elevating Pollution In An Already Deteriorated Air Quality

Air pollution is not a new concern, but an existing issue that has seen only a rise in recent years. And during the season of Diwali, the already deteriorated air quality and the rising air pollution take a deeper plunge - paving way for aggravating the already existing health concerns.

How Microplastics Negatively Impact Your Health

The particles from these firecrackers are capable of advancing deep into the lungs and affecting the respiratory system and impair the immune system which leads to recurrent infections that in turn leads to asthma. This dysfunction also damages the lungs which also leads to breathing problems and asthma [4] .

Studies reveal that air pollutants can affect your health in various ways. From simple to serious health concerns, from biochemical and physiological to breathing difficulties, cough and aggravation of respiratory as well as cardiac disorders. Air quality affects the health of our lungs and the entire respiratory system in particular [5] [6] .

Considering the current scenario of pollution, air quality and rising levels of climate crisis, there is an acute need to execute serious measures that gradually ease the problem of air pollution during Diwali and make sure that the citizens have access to relatively cleaner air [7]. This in turn can help avoid the prevalence and risk of respiratory problems, especially during the Diwali season.

Steps To Prevent Fume-triggered Respiratory Problems

While it is not possible to have a zero pollution Diwali, every individual can play a significant role in preventing or even reversing pollution and the related health concern. Following are some steps to be kept in mind while celebrating Diwali this year.

  • If possible, avoid as much contact with the polluted air as possible and stay away from crackers and stay indoors [8] .
  • Keep the doors and windows around you closed. This is especially necessary for pregnant women, newborns, kids, as well as the elderly, and those with chronic conditions, such as asthma, heart disease, etc.
  • Individuals with pre-existing health issues like asthma or bronchitis should regularly take their medicines especially during the Diwali period to let the symptoms stay under control and to also avoid sudden attacks.
  • Individuals with asthma must keep the inhalers close to them (just in case).
  • Avoid exercising outdoors during this time as the air tends to have particles suspended in the air and heavy breathing after a workout can make a way for these particles to get in [9] .
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle and nutritious diet to strengthen your immune system. Do not consume too much of oily food items as an excess of oil can upset digestion and increase chances of suffocation.
  • Stay hydrated. Consume a lot of water constantly [10] .
  • In case of increase in any signs of breathlessness shooting up, reach out for medical aid at the earliest possible.

On A Final Note...

While the preventive measures are beneficial for a short period, the impact these firecrackers have on your health and the earth's health is almost irreversible. Time has come for us to understand the importance of clean air and celebrating festivities consciously. Be aware of your earth, the other beings around you and yourself. Opt for a safe and pollution-free Diwali this year and the years to come!

With inputs from Dr RAMESH B R, Consultant Pulmonology, Columbia Asia

View Article References
  1. [1] Mandal, P., Prakash, M., & Bassin, J. K. (2012). Impact of Diwali celebrations on urban air and noise quality in Delhi City, India. Environmental monitoring and assessment, 184(1), 209-215.
  2. [2] Singh, D. P., Gadi, R., Mandal, T. K., Dixit, C. K., Singh, K., Saud, T., ... & Gupta, P. K. (2010). Study of temporal variation in ambient air quality during Diwali festival in India. Environmental monitoring and assessment, 169(1-4), 1-13.
  3. [3] Khan, S. U., & Ali, N. (2013). Ambient air quality of Aligarh city (UP, India) at Diwali. International Journal of Current Engineering and Technology, 3(5), 1730-1732.
  4. [4] Sati, A. P., & Mohan, M. (2014). Analysis of air pollution during a severe smog episode of November 2012 and the Diwali Festival over Delhi, India. International journal of remote sensing, 35(19), 6940-6954.
  5. [5] Sharma, S., Nayak, H., & Lal, P. (2015). Post-Diwali morbidity survey in a resettlement colony of Delhi. Indian Journal of Burns, 23(1), 76.
  6. [6] Prakash, D., Payra, S., Verma, S., & Soni, M. (2013). Aerosol particle behavior during Dust Storm and Diwali over an urban location in north western India. Natural hazards, 69(3), 1767-1779.
  7. [7] Chauhan, V. S., Singh, B., Ganesh, S., Zaidi, J., & Bose, J. C. (2014). Status of air pollution during festival of lights (Diwali) in Jhansi, Bundelkhand Region, India. Asian Journal of Science and Technology, 5(3), 187-191.
  8. [8] Kesavachandran, C. N., Kamal, R., Bihari, V., Pathak, M. K., & Singh, A. (2015). Particulate matter in ambient air and its association with alterations in lung functions and respiratory health problems among outdoor exercisers in National Capital Region, India. Atmospheric Pollution Research, 6(4), 618-625.
  9. [9] Ravindra, K., Mor, S., & Kaushik, C. P. (2003). Short-term variation in air quality associated with firework events: a case study. Journal of Environmental Monitoring, 5(2), 260-264.
  10. [10] Izhar, S., Rajput, P., & Gupta, T. (2018). Variation of particle number and mass concentration and associated mass deposition during Diwali festival. Urban climate, 24, 1027-1036.

Read more about: diwali 2019 lung health
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