[Editorial] Green Crackers- Answer to Festive-time Pollution?

How harmful are firecrackers?

  • Firecrackers’ components, upon combustion release toxic compounds in the form of smoke. This smoke contains greenhouse gases like carbon monoxide and dioxide and oxides of nitrogen.
  • For instance, in the USA, fireworks were estimated to release 60,340 tonnes of carbon dioxide- equivalent to the annual output of nearly 12,000 cars.
  • Delhi’s air quality has been deteriorating to ‘critical category’ in the aftermath of Diwali, these last few years. A significant proportion of the air pollution observed during this period is attributed to firecrackers.
  • Firecrackers get their colours from metallic compounds:
    • White colour arises from compounds of aluminium, magnesia and titanium.
    • Orange colour arises from carbon and iron compounds.
    • Yellow colour arises from compounds of sodium.
    • Blue colour arises from copper compounds.
    • Red colour arises from strontium compounds.
    • Green colour arises from barium compounds like mono chloride, nitrate and chlorate.
  • Many of these compounds are hazardous to health:
    • Lead affects the nervous system
    • Copper irritates the respiratory tract
    • Sodium irritates skin issues
    • Magnesium triggers metal fume fever
    • Cadmium causes anaemia and kidney damage
    • Nitrite irritates mucous membrane, skin and eyes
    • Most notably, nitrate causes mental impairment
  • They also release particulate matter/ PM that damages the throat and lungs and cause long-term adverse health effect.
  • These negative impacts are especially harmful for infants, children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with underlying medical conditions.
  • These pollutants also contaminate the air, water and soil. They are harmful to wildlife as well.
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What are green crackers?

  • Green crackers are low-emission firecrackers that are free of harmful compounds like sulphur nitrates and toxic metals like arsenic, lead, barium, magnesium, etc.
  • In India, green crackers were developed by CSIR’s (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) National Environment and Engineering Research Institute.
  • These are available in forms of pencils, flower pots, sparklers, bombs etc.
  • The Indian green crackers are of 3 categories:
    • SWAS/ Safe Water Releaser
      • These crackers release small water droplets that help suppress the dust.
      • As a result, the dust released from bursting crackers is reduced by 30%.
      • Also, it is devoid of potassium nitrate and sulphur compounds.
    • SAFAL/ Safe Minimal Aluminium
      • It reduces use of aluminium and uses magnesium instead
      • Enables 35-40 % reduction in PM
    • STAR/ Safe Thermite Cracker
      • Eliminates use of potassium nitrate and sulphur
      • It has reduced sound intensity.

How are green crackers better?

  • The green crackers are significantly less polluting than the regular crackers. They use less harmful alternatives instead of barium and arsenic.
  • According to CSIR, these crackers can reduce emissions by up to 30%.
  • In green variants, the emission of PM and gases is reduced as a consequence of:
    • Reduced shell size
    • Elimination of ash usage
    • Reduction of raw material use etc.
  • They also produce lower sound (100-130 decibels) compared to the regular crackers (160-200 decibels).
  • They are associated with lesser firework-related accidents and deaths.

What are its limitations?

  • It is to be noted that these green crackers are not a safe replacement for the regular firecrackers. They are only less harmful.
  • A major drawback in enabling its adoption is that these crackers are manufactured by only a limited number of units that have an agreement with CSIR.
  • Another disadvantage is the low availability of the required raw materials.
  • Not everybody is able to access these products yet. In accordance with NGT directions, these crackers are available in cities and towns with moderate to poor air quality, but their availability elsewhere is much lower.

What is the way ahead?

  • If people must burst crackers to celebrate the festival of light, they must be encouraged to buy green crackers only from licensed sellers and not from spurious outlets.
  • CSIR NEERI could consider adding logos and QR codes to the products to prevent inauthentic products from being sold.
  • In addition to this, people must take care to adhere to the general safety precautions while bursting firecrackers, like:
    • Bursting crackers only in open spaces
    • Using longer candles to ignite crackers
    • Keeping the elbow joint straight while lighting the crackers (to increase distance from the crackers)
    • Wearing proper footwear while bursting crackers
    • Keeping buckets to water ready to mitigate accidents

Conclusion:

Green crackers are only a less harmful alternative to the traditional crackers, an entertainment which has been proving harmful to the health of people and environment every year. In the short term, people need to be weaned away from using the traditional crackers. In the long run, there is a need to switch to sustainable ways of celebrating our festivals.

Practice Question for Mains:

Why is bursting firecrackers harmful? Compare the green firecrackers from CSIR with the conventional firecrackers. (250 words)

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