Can Watching Fireworks Cause Health Problems?

Fireworks contain a variety of chemicals. When they are burned to create the effects during fireworks displays, they release substances that contribute to air pollution. Such pollution is associated with a number of medical problems, especially for people who have lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma.

Chemical toxins in the air form airborne particulate matter, which is composed of tiny substances that are small enough to inhale. Fireworks are among the many products that add to harmful airborne particulate matter.

Watching fireworks
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Fireworks and Air Quality

Aerial fireworks are tightly packed shells of combustible chemicals that are carefully engineered to produce sonic and visual effects when ignited. After a fireworks display, the substances are released into the air. Pollutants such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide are also produced by the burning process.

In a study that included European cities in the weeks following New Year's Eve fireworks, for example, concentrations of strontium, barium, magnesium, bismuth, aluminum, copper, and potassium were higher in the air than they were during other weeks.

These materials remain in the atmosphere after the displays are over, but it is not clear how long they remain there. Research suggests that weather characteristics, such as temperature, wind, humidity, and precipitation might factor into this.

Effect on Respiratory Health

Air quality can affect health, especially for those who are very young, in frail health, have COPD, asthma, a respiratory infection, or are pregnant.

Air pollution contributes to the development of COPD and lung cancer by damaging the lungs. And if you already have one of these lung conditions, air pollution can make it worse. Inhaled particles in the air can trigger asthma attacks, and they can also make the effects of a respiratory infection worse.

But the exact process by which fireworks may cause health problems is not completely clear. At least one report details the harmful lung effects of working closely with fireworks in a factory setting.

And another study out of the Netherlands identified a substantial increase in measures of air pollution with a slight associated increase in death rates caused by respiratory and cardiovascular disease in the days after News Year's Eve fireworks displays.

So, while the specific way that fireworks could affect health is not known for certain, fireworks regulations can be beneficial. One report described a decline in death rates on festival days when regulations regarding fireworks were implemented.

If you are in good health, your health risk from watching occasional fireworks displays is likely to be minimal based on the information available at this time.

Avoiding Fireworks-Related Medical Issues

If you are at a high risk of developing pollution-associated respiratory problems, consider avoiding fireworks displays so you don't expose yourself to the airborne particles they produce.

Because the materials can stay in the air for a bit, it is also a good idea to avoid the general area where displays were heavily concentrated for a few days, if possible.

If you do choose to take in a fireworks show, the American Lung Association offers these suggestions:

  • Watch fireworks from a distance. (This can also minimize noise-induced hearing loss.)
  • Stay upwind of the smoke.
  • Go inside if it gets too smoky.
  • Have a rescue inhaler nearby if you have asthma.

A Word From Verywell

If you have a special health concern, it can be beneficial to avoid exposure to the particles that are released during a fireworks display. Keep in mind, too, that you can and should also take steps to improve your exposure to healthy air in general. Taking walks in the park, keeping your home clean, avoiding close contact with cigarette smoke, and staying away from industrial chemicals are all healthy strategies to protect your lungs.

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