Diwali is an annual festival that is celebrated all over the world, though the majority of the celebrations are in India. Diwali the Hindu festival is a “Festival of Lights”. For the northern hemisphere, which includes India, Diwali is celebrated in Autumn. For the southern hemisphere, Diwali is celebrated in the Spring. Nearly all Diwali celebrations have one thing in common: fireworks. Typically thought of as a festive and interactive way to celebrate the occasion, fireworks can actually be very detrimental to our health.
One of the ways that fireworks can be very damaging and dangerous is with the amount of air pollution they produce. This is especially exacerbated in countries like India and in large cities where the air quality is already abysmal. In fact, air pollution is the fifth leading cause of death in India. Air pollution is responsible for between 10,000 and 30,000 deaths every year in Delhi alone. In India overall, it’s estimated that 620,000 total premature deaths occur every year from air pollution-related diseases.
Air pollution is typically characterized by a presence of smog or a smoke like appearance to the air. There are certain levels of various contaminants that are deemed acceptable for human health. Air pollution is typically measured in levels of fine particulate matter or PM for short. Some of the most common pollutants include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia volatile organic compounds (often shortened to simply VOC) as well as various sulfur and nitrogen oxides. Together, these compounds and more contribute to a lower air quality and thus cause detrimental effects to our health.
Last year in Delhi, air pollution levels after Diwali were labeled as severe-to-critical. This means that PM levels were up to eight times higher than the amount that the Indian government deems acceptable and a whopping 20 times higher than what is recommended by the World Health Organization. In fact, many officials are encouraging people to limit or suspend purchase and detonation of fireworks this year in order to decrease the levels of pollution.
Not only does air pollution increase dramatically in India due to Diwali and the detonation of fireworks, but around the world as well. On average, after a typical Diwali celebration, air pollution is increased up to 30 percent. In addition, studies have shown that ground level ozone pollution is often formed due to the fireworks detonated during Diwali. This means that countless individuals are at severe risk of health problems and diseases due to just a few days of celebrating.
Some of the most prominent health risks and concerns associated with increased levels of air pollution include respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. Because the body has to work harder to process the air it intakes and the fact that toxins are being breathed in, preliminary effects often include wheezing, difficulty breathing, coughing.
In addition, the toxins are then absorbed into the bloodstream which affects cardiovascular health. Individuals suffering from existing respiratory and cardiac conditions often report that their symptoms are greatly exacerbated after exposure. Children under the age of five are most at risk for experiencing the negative side effects of air pollution.
While Diwali can be a fun and celebratory occasion, precautions should be taken if you live in an area that detonates large quantities of fireworks and/or an area that already has significant air pollution problems. If you are concerned about you or your family’s exposure to air pollution, consider traveling out of the area, remaining indoors for the duration of the festival, wearing protective masks or investing in an air filter for your indoor space.