‘Absurdly high’ levels of toxins released by fireworks, study finds

Ooh, ahh, uh oh: An explosive new study on the dangers of fireworks has revealed a major health hazard just in time for the 4th of July 2020.

It’s not just the immediate risks of accidental fire and life-threatening injury you might expect. Everyday fireworks — ones that any amateur pyro could acquire — emit “absurdly high” amounts of harmful toxins, including lead and copper, said Dr. Terry Gordon, the senior author of the study.

Exposure to these toxins could leave lasting damage on lungs, previous research has shown.

The findings are especially troubling given the recent uptick in illegal firework activity in New York City and elsewhere, Gordon said.

“These are high levels of … toxic metals that [usually] only occur a few days a year,” he told The Post. “But this has been increased.”

In New York City, fireworks-related noise complaints reached 9,000 cases between June 1 and 21. And some retailers say they’re seeing a surge in sales this year like they’ve never seen before — perhaps resulting in the confiscation of thousands of dollars worth of fireworks during the past few weeks.

Gordon claimed the study — 14 years in the making — is one of the only to analyze consumer fireworks for their toxic, respiratory hazards. He and his team in the Department of Environmental Medicine at NYU Langone Health published their findings this month in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology.

“To me, this has always been overlooked,” he said. “There hasn’t been any real studies to look at the toxicity of fireworks.”

As a result of the study, he suggests anyone with asthma or other respiratory issues situate themselves upwind of larger pyrotechnic displays, to prevent emissions from rolling your way. This could exacerbate existing issues.

Their experiment included a dozen popular brands, such as the Black Cuckoo, the Color Changing Wheel and Blue Storm firecrackers. To get a sense of the potential immediate damage these toxins can do, researchers detonated the fireworks in a chamber containing mice subjects as well as human cells, and later assessed the health of each case study.

“Most surprising was that, in this very small sample of consumer fireworks … two out of the 12 had high levels of lead,” he said. In particular, he called the amount of lead found in the Black Cuckoo “absurdly high” at 40,000 parts per million. It also contained 12,000 ppm of copper.

The Blue and Purple Colorful Storms also turned up 53,000 and 44,000 ppm of copper, respectively. Other potentially harmful metals found in their analysis included bromine, zinc, barium and cobalt.

Their chamber experiment revealed that acute, high exposure to the fireworks were enough to cause human cell damage as well as inflammation in the lungs of mice.

“This isn’t [just] contamination level,” Gordon says of the Black Cuckoo. “This is like purposely putting it in there.”

He added, “I don’t know why someone would put lead in,” which, per the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory guidelines, should not be there, he pointed out. He speculates the chemical was “cheaper” to use than an alternative ingredient.

He says there are a “very good set of … guidelines” in place. Unfortunately, he continued, they’re not enforced. Gordon blames an industry that fails to sample its products for the egregious oversight. He estimated that some “90% or more” of fireworks are being imported from China.

He believes the industry should be regularly sampling their fireworks inventory “to make sure that the imports are safe.”

And for those pyros who just can’t keep away, Gordon feels comfortable recommending sparklers. “I’ve always let my kids use sparklers,” he said.

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