The Centre told the Supreme Court that it was not in favour of a national ban on firecracker sales and instead suggested that manufacturers produce green or eco-friendly fireworks.

Centre suggests green crackers to curb pollution manufacturers resist change
news Environment Thursday, August 23, 2018 - 12:22

In 2015, Supreme Court advocate and co-founder of NGO Care for Air Gopal Sankaranarayanan moved the top court on behalf of his then 6-month-old son to ban the sale and use of firecrackers in the Delhi and NCR region. This to curb the air pollution which was contributing to a rise in the number of respiratory related ailments in young children. Following this, the Supreme Court imposed a one month ban on sale of firecrackers in the Delhi and NCR regions in October 2017, citing that a Diwali without firecrackers would improve air quality and improve the health of citizens.

On Tuesday, the Centre told the Supreme Court that it was not in favour of a national ban on firecracker sales, and instead has suggested that manufacturers opt to produce ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ firecrackers, stating that such an alternative measure could “curb pollution”.

‘Govt must help with formula for green crackers’

But this is being met with some resistance from fireworks manufacturers, who are not entirely on board with the suggestions. Speaking to TNM, PCA Asaithambi, President of the Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TANFAMA) said, “There are so many more dangerous pollutants but the fireworks industry that hardly contributes to 1% of this pollution is blamed for everything. It is just easy to target us.”

He further added that ‘green’ fireworks refer to ones which do not produce as much air pollution. “By green crackers, the government essentially means fireworks that do not have too much emission. This is something that they must help us with in terms of the formula to be used. CSIR and NEERI have already come down to our factories to do the groundwork and see how the crackers can be made more environmentally friendly. But this will take time. We will definitely find a remedy but it may take upto two years. And this is not a question of us resisting change because we have to comply with what the licensing authority says," he added.

Fireworks manufacturers, such as Sri Kaliswari, have already begun to get their research and development department to work on finding alternatives to traditional products and manufacturing methods, but have added that the government’s support is crucial.

Apprehensions about eco-friendly fireworks

“Air pollution is a huge challenge. The Central Pollution Control Board data does show a significant difference in air pollution levels before and after Diwali,” says environmentalist Shweta Narayan, “There has to be some regulation in place, but we don’t have enough information or data to support that using these so-called ‘eco-friendly’ fireworks will have a significant impact on the environment, or even the health risks. We can only say that traditional firecrackers have been found to contain significant amounts of toxic heavy metals in them, including lead, barium and scandium in high concentrations, all of which have been proven to lower IQ and cause cancer.”

Not only environmental activists, but medical experts too are apprehensive of ‘eco-friendly’ firecrackers.

“What we can say for sure is that firecrackers do contribute to air pollution, and that air pollution is definitely causing a lot more respiratory problems for people. This was why the ban was even introduced in Delhi in the first place,” says Chennai-based pulmonologist Dr Roshan, “We do see exacerbation of asthma and bronchitis in children and people prone to respiratory ailments around Diwali time, but we cannot say that using these ‘green’ firecrackers will help to reduce these issues.”

Traditional firecrackers contain oxidizers which are oxygen-rich substances which help the fireworks burn for a longer time. Commonly used oxidizers are nitrates, perchlorates, and chlorates. Studies have shown that perchlorates can interfere with normal iodine production in the thyroid gland, causing hormonal imbalance and other related problems. It has also been noted that perchlorates negatively impact embryo growth.

“Barium found in these fireworks also poses a health risk,” adds Dr Roshan, “Several studies have shown that barium can affect a person’s breathing because it acts on the passageways in the lungs and constricts them, which affects normal respiration.”

Researchers in the United States have supposedly found an alternative to traditional production of firecrackers, which is said to have less impact on the environment. A study published in the American Chemical Society’s journal, Chemical & Engineering News, showed that using nitrocellulose in place of perchlorate made the fireworks “burn cleaner and produce less smoke.”   

It further added that using nitrogen-based products would cut down on the usage of heavy metals in the manufacturing of fireworks, which could potentially mean that there would be less health risks.

However, how all this would translate practically remains unknown, “These are all relatively new methods, we don’t have any studies done in India to show how it would affect people or the environment,” adds Shwetha.

 

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