SALT LAKE CITY — The same fireworks that bring joy to the young and young-at-heart on Independence Day can lead to high levels of “particulate matter” (PM) in the air, worsening air quality and irritating people’s lungs.
“Anything that’s combustible ... it gets mixed up with the ozone, and then it creates worse conditions,” said Donna Spangler, communications director with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
This year, particulate matter peaked dramatically Thursday night through the early hours of Friday morning, according to a graph provided by DEQ.
“It’s the smaller particles that are more problematic because they get lodged in your lungs,” Spangler said.
The level of smaller particulate matter, which are 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5), or about a quarter the width of a human hair, exceeded the standard, which is 35 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic meter of air, Spangler said.
DEQ’s Division of Air Quality has monitored extremely high concentrations of PM associated with Independence Day fireworks in the past, said a DEQ press release.
“Every year we see significant spikes in particulate matter concentrations on July 4th and Pioneer Day,” said Bryce Bird, air quality director, in the press release. “These spikes are mostly related to the smaller neighborhood fireworks and barbecues. Exceptional events like wildfires and fireworks on holidays can make our air quality much worse — a fact that we hope people will take into consideration when planning their holiday parties.”
It’s difficult to compare how much fireworks affect air quality from year to year, Spangler said.
“It’s really hard to make comparisons like that simply because the weather changes,” she said. “There are so many factors that contribute to poor air quality, fireworks is just one element of them.”
“Temperatures were fairly cool this weekend,” Spangler continued, “so that’s probably going to tamp it down a little bit.”