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January 11, 2014

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Is fewer fireworks plea sparking a change?

CITY residents are being asked to celebrate Chinese New Year with less of a bang than in the past, in an effort to reduce pollution and safeguard health.

Though seen as an integral part of the Spring Festival, fireworks create smog and release harmful substances, warn environmental experts.

When ignited, gunpowder releases oxynitride and oxysulphide — compounds similar to motor vehicle emissions — creating hazy conditions.

Spectacular colors are achieved through metallic elements, releasing ions like potassium, aluminum, iron and caesium.

These are poisonous and more harmful than dust, said Cheng Jinping, an environmental researcher of Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Traditionally, fireworks are set off to celebrate the Spring Festival, especially on the Lunar New Year’s Eve and four days later when people welcome the God of Fortune.

But the celebrations bring a further burden to the city’s air quality. Shanghai has just experienced one of its most polluted Decembers, with only eight days reported to have good or excellent air quality.

On the eve of 2013 Chinese New Year last February, the index of PM2.5 pollutants — particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that are considered especially harmful — soared to 524 micrograms per cubic meter around midnight.

This was the highest level, “severely polluted,” in the five-tier air quality system.

“If the city’s weather is favorable — windy or rainy — to the diffusion of air pollutants during the Spring Festival, people can set off fireworks in moderation,” said Cheng.

“Otherwise, fireworks will just worsen air quality.”

However, there are signs that Shanghai residents are heeding experts’ advice. Last year, more than 700 tons of firecracker packaging and debris was collected during the Spring Festival, down 20 percent on the 2012 figure.

Going green

And efforts are also being made to provide cleaner alternatives to traditional fireworks.

Local fireworks company Jinqilin, responsible for supplying fireworks to the city’s retailers, said it would introduce a new type of “green” firework this year, covering half the wholesale market.

Containing less or no sulphur, these were tested during the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

And for a pollution-free option, electronic fireworks offer the pyrotechnics without a fuse being lit.

The message seems to get through to younger residents.

“It’s a tradition to let off fireworks during the Chinese New Year and you can’t stop people from doing it overnight,” said Wu Mi, a Fudan University student.

“But I’ll try to persuade my parents to get fewer this year.”


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