‘Tis the time for Chinese New Year, the time for ‘Xīn Nián Hǎo Ya’ and jiǎozi and niangao, a time to celebrate life, hope, love and family, and a time to revel in the end of winter and the advent of spring. The celebrations, however, come with a price – and we don’t just mean the morning after one too many baijius.
Long, loud and colourful displays of fireworks are a long-standing tradition and an integral part of CNY celebrations. The loud noise and bright colours are supposed to ward off evil spirits and bad luck for the year to come, allowing families to start anew. While the colours may be dazzling and the noises scary enough for the evil spirits, the astounding and what seems interminable amount of fireworks leave more in their wake than good luck, ringing eardrums and environs inundated in red confetti and smoke. It’s the dreaded smog yet again, and miserable air quality. Depending on the effect sought, fireworks produce smoke and dust that contain various heavy metals, sulphur-coal compounds and other noxious chemicals. Barium, for instance, is used to produce brilliant green colours in fireworks displays, despite being poisonous and radioactive. Copper compounds are used to produce blue colours, even though they contain dioxin, which has been linked to cancer. Cadmium, lithium, antimony, rubidium, strontium, lead and potassium nitrate are also commonly used to produce different effects, even though they can cause a host of respiratory and other health problems.
In addition to the more exotic pollutants common parameters measured via the air quality index are also exacerbated by fireworks, particulate matter PM2.5, PM10, Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), Carbon monoxide (CO), Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and Ozone (O3) are all expected to spike over the holiday.
We hate to be the party-poopers, but the facts are all out there. “For all their dazzling geometry and stirring booms and crackles, fireworks deliver a smorgasbord of grim chemicals into the skies above”, and are not doing our environment or our health any favours.
However, this isn’t an issue that the state is not aware of. According to state media, during the New Year’s celebration in 2012, PM2.5 levels surged to 1,486 per cubic meter, which is more than 40 times the standard of safe air in the U.S. As the awareness of air pollution has grown so has the government’s response.
On February 3rd, China’s environment watchdog demanded local governments take measures during the lunar New Year celebrations to lessen pollution caused by fireworks. “Local governments should limit fireworks displays, expand restricted areas and reinforce check-ups if weather conditions are not suitable for pollutants to disperse”, said the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Beijingers have shown displeasure at their city government’s urging a reduction in firecrackers over the coming holiday. “Just like how the Northern Chinese eat dumplings during festivals, setting off fireworks is a tradition,” said Xue Xichen, a Tianjin resident, according to Channel News Asia.
With rising humidity and weak winds forecast, the authority fears that firework displays will significantly worsen pollution if the public light up too many. The high humidity can suspend the pollutants in the air, couple that with low winds and the “mist” created by fireworks will not disperse quickly. It could well be a gray start to the Lunar New Year.
There are however steps that can be taken to limit exposure. Although difficult to resist venturing outside to witness the spectacle, one of the best preventive measures is to stay indoors with your air purifiers turned on high. Windows and balcony doors should remain closed throughout the evening to limit the infiltration of outdoor air.
If you are outside, a quality mask with a rating of at least N95 is essential. (N95 is a rating applied to masks which means they can prevent the inhalation of 95% of particulate matter sized 0.3 micron and above.) One crucial step better is the N99 rated Vogmask which can remove 99% of particulate sized over 0.3 microns. The N99 filter layer is combined with active carbon filter layer for protecting from odours and ozone. Paper ‘comfort’ or ‘dust’ masks are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from the fine particles in smoke.
Typically, the fireworks reach their peak around 2a.m. By this hour, if not already asleep (unlikely, with the barrage of explosives outside your window!), keeping purifiers on high, limiting outdoor air infiltration and wearing a N95 or above rated mask when out will enable you to enjoy the displays whether indoors or out, and soak up some of the exuberant Chinese New Year spirit.
One of the cornerstones of the 3Fs of the Chinese New Year celebrations (Feasts, Fireworks and Family gatherings), the tradition of fireworks over China’s biggest holidayis not about to erode in the foreseeable future. What is key, as in most cases, is awareness. What we can do is stay safe, keep our indoors healthy so we and our families can breathe clean air, and if participating in the celebrations, do so responsibly.
Whatever your plans for this Chinese New Year, the PureLiving team sends your ou warmest wishes for the oliday. Stay safe and healthy, and see you in the Year of the Goat!
*The PureLiving offices will be celebrating Chinese New Year from Feb 18-24. We look forward to welcoming you in the new year!