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Media Release 24 December 1999

Pretty Skies - Pretty Poisonous

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The LEAD Group today issued a Global Call for Action in association with the Swedish Heavy Metal Bulletin and SAFER WORLD, Germany about the toxic hazards associated with fireworks. We are concerned about the environmental pollution implications with the increased use of fireworks for celebrations such as New Years Eve and the Olympics.

"The Swedish technical magazine "New Teknik" (October 1999) estimated that 3 tonnes of lead, 60 tonnes of chromium and several kilograms of cadmium will be sprinkled over Sweden during a couple of hours on the coming New Year's Eve. What will be the score for Australia?" asks Elizabeth O’Brien of The LEAD Group.

"Fireworks can contain carcinogenic sulphur-coal compounds and spread an odour of black gunpowder. Radioactive barium makes the green sparkling colour and considerable amounts of strontium are also spread" says O’Brien.

According to New Scientist (3rd July 1999), fireworks also cause dioxin pollution and blue fireworks release the most dioxins. This is because the copper responsible for their colour catalyses the formation of the poisons when chlorinated chemicals in fireworks burn, according to the latest issue of Chemosphere (vol39, p 925).

According to Monica Kauppi of the Heavy Metal Bulletin, "During the Stockholm Water Festival in 1996, the levels of pollutants in the air were measured before and after the fireworks by an environmental agency. Arsenic levels were doubled and the levels of mercury, cadmium, lead, copper, zinc and chromium were 4-5 times elevated.

"It has been estimated that if all EU countries use the same number of fireworks per capita, for New Years Eve, the lead pollution will amount to 124 tonnes (Sweden 9 million people = 3 tonnes, EU 372 million people = 124 tonnes, please note that only full member countries are included in this estimate). What will be the estimates for Australia?" Kauppi asked.

"Imagine if all world citizens were to celebrate in this extravagant way: 2,000,000,000 tonnes of lead would be spread into the air and probably close to the same amount of mercury, not to mention all the other metals and chemicals...."

"This increased exposure to known toxic chemicals constitutes a direct risk for people with asthma, metal allergies and chemical sensitivities. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable and wild life remains completely unprotected.

"People will find it very discouraging and demoralising that such vast pollution on one single occasion is permitted, while they have been making daily sacrifices and efforts to recycle and use un-leaded petrol, etc." says Kauppi.

"Although many people will suffer hangovers on New Years Day many will not be aware that their ill health could also be attributed to exposure to pollution from fireworks" says Jo Immig, Toxic Chemicals Campaigner at the Total Environment Centre.

"It’s enough to make you want to stay home on New Years Eve, but what about the fish in the harbour? - they don’t have a choice," says O’Brien of The LEAD Group.

O’Brien continues: "There does not seem to be a Material Safety Data Sheet available in Australia on safe handling of fireworks by operators and the recently released Australian Standard on Pyrotechnics – Outdoor Displays (AS 2186.4) sets no specific limits on the heavy metal content of display fireworks. The only clause in which chemical constituents of display fireworks are mentioned in the standard is:-

page 6

Section 2 GENERAL REQUIREMENTS

2.1 PRODUCTS

2.1.1 Manufacture

…Potassium or other inorganic chlorates shall not be a constituent of the pyrotechnic substance for display fireworks other than lances or smokes.

"The only other way that the standard might act to protect spectators (but not the environment) from fallout from fireworks is in the following general statement:-

Page 8

Section 3 SITING OF DISPLAY

3.1 GENERAL REQUIREMENTS The operator shall ensure that the point of launch for rockets and aerial shells ensures the safety of the public and protected works from the discharge of pyrotechnic devices, pyrotechnic units, fallout, and any other associated hazard."

"Wouldn't it be nice to be able to greet the new millenium in a dignified, responsible and environmentally friendly way without heavy metal pollution from fireworks?" asks Monica Kauppi.

For further information call The LEAD Group Inc. on 02 9716 0014. ###

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Last Updated 08 March 2012
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