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Do green crackers reduce India’s air pollution during Diwali?

A court banned all fireworks during Diwali apart from “green crackers”, fireworks that produce less emissions because they have a different chemical composition. So will India’s air quality be better during Diwali?

Will green crackers reduce India’s air pollution during the 2019 Diwali?

Will green crackers reduce India’s air pollution during the 2019 Diwali?

India’s Festival of Lights usually darkens the sky with thick smog. In 2019, Diwali fell on Sunday, October 27, and there is only one kind of legal firework: quiet and eco-friendly.

Just before Diwali in 2018, an Indian court effectively banned conventional fireworks because of pollution, ruling that only “green firecrackers” within permitted noise levels and emissions norms could be sold. The case had been brought by Delhi residents concerned about the air they were breathing, and the court ruling also restricted setting off fireworks on Diwali to a two-hour window.

Despite the Supreme Court order, Delhi air pollution still rose to hazardous levels during Diwali, which fell in November last year. PM2.5 levels soared to 380 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³), a 420 on the U.S. Air Quality Index. This was almost double New Delhi’s November average of 194.2 µg/m³.

Delhi: One of the world’s most polluted capital cities

Most polluted capital cities

Delhi air quality is already bad. It was the world’s most polluted capital city in 2018, according to IQAir AirVisual’s 2018 World Air Quality Report. The main sources of pollution year-round include vehicle emissions and dust from construction. But unlike in Beijing, there is little wind to disperse pollutants.

The judges in the case said they had weighed the right of fireworks manufacturers to make a living against the right of more than 1.3 billion Indians to a healthy life.

In the year since the ruling, many fireworks factories have closed, workers spent months on strike to protest the ban, and revenue has fallen for India’s fireworks manufacturing industry, the world’s second-largest after China.

Meanwhile, government scientists set about developing more eco-friendly fireworks – defined by the court as a cracker with an improved formulation or an all-new formulation.

They have reportedly replaced barium nitrate with another chemical. Ironically, barium nitrate emits green light and is what gives firecrackers a green color. A U.S. Army team found in 2011 that boron carbide could be used instead to reduce the toxic material released in pyrotechnics, which the military uses for signal flares and explosion simulations.1

India air quality

India air quality

India’s science and technology minister announced in 2019 that scientists had delivered, and that green crackers that emit 30 percent less pollution were now available on the market.

These “environmentally-friendly” firecrackers that include flower pots and sparklers will carry a green logo and a QR code, said Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan. Someone who scans the code can see which chemicals make up the cracker.2

Vardhan said that 165 fireworks manufacturers had already started to make crackers that met the “green” standard, and that a further 65 were in the process of coming on board.

Despite the announcement, parents who want to set a green example are unsure what to buy.3 A lot of the green stock was shipped before the government agreed to the idea of a QR code to identify genuine manufacturers.

There is still likely to be a significant supply of more polluting fireworks for years to come, as factories ship out stock leftover from previous years and workers who went on strike continue to make illegal firecrackers at home.4

Article Resources

[1] Crew JM. (2011). Boron carbide could light way to less-toxic green pyrotechnics. DOI: 10.1038/news.2011.222

[2] Green crackers with 30% less emissions to be available in markets this Diwali: Union minister Harsh Vardhan. (2019, October 6). https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/green-crackers-with-less-emissions-to-be-available-markets-diwali-union-minister-harsh-vardhan-1606590-2019-10-06

[3] Simhan TER. (2019, October 20). Diwali blues: Supreme Court's green crackers diktat makes Sivakasi see red. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/sivakasi-sees-red-as-green-cracker-issue-causes-confusion/article29749634.ece

[4] Katiyar P. (2019, October 20). Green crackers' market sees red due to low supply, lack of varieties. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/green-crackers-market-sees-red-due-to-low-supply-lack-of-varieties/articleshow/71667670.cms

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