Study: Inhaling smoke from fireworks could be dangerous

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 4:10 PM EDT
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With fireworks canceled around the country because of the pandemic, many people are planning to put on their own shows at home. Now, a first-of-its-kind study suggests inhaling smoke from fireworks may be potentially dangerous.

Fireworks get their vibrant colors from metals. Researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine have found fireworks sold to consumers can release toxic metals into the air.

"I was surprised there were such high levels," said Dr. Terry Gordon, the lead study author.

Gordon said his son Christopher came up with the idea to study the toxicity of fireworks particles for a high school science project. They collected airborne particles emitted from about a dozen different types of fireworks and tested them on human cells in the lab.

"We found high levels of lead in one of the 12 samples," Gordon said. "And a common metal we found was copper, at high levels. We also found strontium, barium, and titanium, and aluminum."

Researchers also analyzed air quality samples taken over 14 years and found toxic metal levels were higher around the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve, both popular times for fireworks.

"Nobody considers the metals and the particles that we're going to breathe. And the consumer fireworks are mostly for young children," Gordon said. "One has to be aware that one should not assume that these are safe just because a manufacturer sells them. And obviously, I feel that the manufacturer should up their game so to speak at testing fireworks."

Gordon's research also showed particles from the fireworks could potentially damage cells in the lung. Gordon says while more study is needed, he plans to share his findings with health officials, fireworks manufacturers and regulatory agencies.