In some countries like Germany, it’s not New Year’s Eve without a night sky full of fireworks. But how bad are these colorful explosions for our environment? And what are the health effects?
Starting a new year can be costly. Germans, for instance, send €100 to 200 million ($240 million) up in smoke every New Year’s Eve, as spectacular fireworks displays light up the sky above villages and cities across the country.
But the annual tradition also has an environmental cost, with each rocket releasing a toxic mix of chemicals and particulates into the air.
“Each rocket consists of about 75 percent potassium nitrate, 15 percent charcoal and 10 percent sulfur,” said Günter Klein-Sommer, a chemist and pyrotechnist, speaking at a recent lecture on the chemistry of pyrotechnics at the University of Cologne.
Depending on the desired effects, other components might be added, including copper, barium or strontium compounds. These end up coloring the fireworks blue, green or red.
All of these chemicals require high amounts of energy to be produced, only to fizzle out in a few short seconds, critics have argued.