Pollution Spikes: A New Holiday Tradition

Jul 25, 2014

Smoke from fireworks makes pollution counts skyrocket during Utah's 4th of July and Pioneer Day celebrations.
Smoke from fireworks makes pollution counts skyrocket during Utah's 4th of July and Pioneer Day celebrations.
Credit Sarah Sammis / Flickr Creative Commons

Families all over Utah celebrated Pioneer Day with fireworks. The festivities also pumped lots of unhealthy smoke into the air that spiked air pollution. KUER’s Judy Fahys reports on the trend and Salt Lake City’s plan to deal with it.

Polluted air has become a kind of day-after tradition for Independence Day and Pioneer Day in Utah. Monitors at the state Department of Environmental Quality show those pretty pyrotechnics created enough smoke to top federal health standards in Salt Lake, Utah, Weber, Cache and Tooele counties Thursday night.

“As we expected,” says DEQ spokesperson Donna Spangler, “our one-hour monitors did show an increase in particulate pollution from the fireworks, basically from 10 p.m. to midnight.”

Erin Mendenhall, a Salt Lake City councilwoman and policy director for the health-advocacy group Breathe Utah, blames neighborhood firecrackers for more of this hazardous pollution than the big, community displays.

“Most people don’t have any idea that the exposure their child gets by holding a sparkler is monumentally greater than if they were laying under a giant aerial show,” says Mendenhall. “The colors that we’re seeing from those pretty sparklers and those fireworks in our driveway are metals that are burning, essentially. We’re inhaling the combustion product from burning those metals.”

Salt Lake City has adopted a new policy for city-sponsored summer fireworks in future years. If wildfire smoke boosts particulate counts the day before, the holiday fireworks shows will be cancelled.

“I think that we weigh that burden,” Mendenhall adds, “and we weigh whether or not we can afford, basically, that increased pollution burden. We can do that as a city with those fireworks that we fund.”

One big difference between the pollution from fireworks and Utah’s winter smog is that fireworks smoke usually fades by the next day.

Utah Division of Air Quality trend chart for PM 2.5 pollution in Salt Lake County after Pioneer Day fireworks.
Utah Division of Air Quality trend chart for PM 2.5 pollution in Salt Lake County after Pioneer Day fireworks.
Credit Utah Division of Air Quality

Trend chart for Weber County.
Trend chart for Weber County.
Credit Utah Division of Air Quality

Trend chart for PM 2.5 pollution in Cache County.
Trend chart for PM 2.5 pollution in Cache County.
Credit Utah Division of Air Quality