•  Laboratory tests
 •  Harmful effects of chemicals
Festival of noise and pollution
Every Diwali, tradition, health and safety collide amidst celebrations.
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November 2001 - The factfile here on health and other hazards resulting from the bursting of firecrackers during the festival seasons is provided to India Together by Toxics Link.

Major recent developments around the country
  1. In September 2001, the Supreme Court passed orders seeking adherence to anti- noise pollution norms and standards for fire crackers before the festival season.

  2. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee sent a notification to the Delhi Police informing them about the type of fire-crackers that violate the prescribed limit of 125 decibels at a distance of 4 meters from the point of bursting. It prohibits setting of crackers in the silence zones (that is the areas within 100 meters of hospitals, educational institutions, courts and religious places). Firecrackers can be burst only between 6pm to 10 pm.

  3. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) amended "noise pollution" defined in the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 and banned the manufacture, sale and use of fire-crackers generating noise levels exceeding 125 dB (AL) or 145 dB (C) notified in October 1999. But the amendment remains unimplemented till now.

  4. The police authorities have been authorized to enforce the rules regarding noise pollution. The Delhi High Court order seeking cracker manufacturers to print the noise level generated by them on the wrapper by November 2000 remains unimplemented. We have banned 20 types of crackers that exceed 125 decibels. Any person who manufactures and stores them will face prosecution, says Keshav Dwivedi, Deputy Commissioner Police. The police plans to work closely with Delhi Pollution Control Committee to help police detect the noise levels. People can complain at these control rooms, he added.

  5. About 80 per cent of the fire-works sold in Delhi come from Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu while the rest comes from Uttar Pradesh. In Chennai, the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has taken cognizance of fire-crackers' menace and has issued orders prohibiting the crackers violating decibel limits. The Board has also asked Fire Services and Rescue Operations Wing to ban 'Rockets' -a fire- cracker responsible for accidents.

  6. Maharashtra government strictly enforced Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 and Supreme Court's order during Navaratri.

  7. Ninety Five percent of the crackers violate the noise and pollution norms, says a study by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)-National Physical Laboratory. The four companies that were studied are Rajaratnam Fireworks Industries, Cheeta Fireworks, Standard Fireworks and Sri Kaliswari Fireworks. The results have been sent to State Pollution Control Boards (SPCB) and the MoEF but are yet to be made public.

  8. "Unless noise pollution standards are enforced at the place of manufacture, it is impossible to regulate them", says D K Biswas, chairman, CPCB. "We have sent directions to the Controller of Explosives to limit the number of licenses to sell fire crackers alongwith missives to all SPCBs, Biswas said. Media has a role to play. The response from the electronic media was totally unsatisfactory last year. Most channels aired short films on anti-cracker awareness as and when it suited them. They were too busy generating money from commercial ads to do their bit towards a social cause. Residents of Delhi have not adhered to the deadlines", he added.

  9. The Department of Explosives under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce ought to regulate the grant of licenses to manufacturers of explosives, say experts. MoEF also shifts the responsibility of enforcing the decibel standards on Department of Explosives.

  10. The Gujarat High Court heard a noise pollution PIL after Navratri.

  11. The West Bengal Pollution Control Board met on October 9 to minimize noise level during Pujas in the aftermath of apex court imposed cracker curfew hour.

  12. On Diwali day the noise levels touch a deafening 140 decibels, says Madhu Saxena of Voice, a non-governmental orgaisation based in Delhi.

  13. Delhi's Chief Minister launched anti-cracker campaign " This Diwali have a cracking time without Crackers" and its Health minister leads an anti-cracker rally seeking abolition of child labour in the manufacture of crackers.

  14. The Haryana Pollution Control Board is seeking measurement of noise pollution in different districts on 12, 14 and 16 November. Panipat has made all arrangements for its measurement, says, O. P. Dahiya, District Pollution Officer, Panipat.

  15. The Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (APPCB) organized a ten-day campaign beginning from November 5 to bring awareness on the impact of noise pollution due to fire crackers.

  16. More than 25 NGOs and 100 schools participated to take a oath against noise pollution.

  17. The Tamilnadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TANFAMA) claims that the restriction-90 decibels (AI)- imposed by the state pollution control board on fire-crackers and other sound -polluting items was "incorrect and unscientific". The imposed ban goes against the provisions of the Explosives Act, 1884 and Explosives Rules 1983, says K Mariappan, secretary, TANFAMA.

  18. Gitanath Ganguly, a PCB member quotes Supreme Court order dated 27th Septemeber, 2001 which said, " …this order shall not imply any restriction on the union government, union territories or state governments in case they wish to further reduce the noise level of so advised".

Laboratory tests:

To study the chemical composition, particularly of metallic and non-metallic components of crackers, Toxics Link got some samples of sparklers ("phuljari" in Hindi and "mathappu" in Tamil) and pots ("anar" in Hindi and "pusvanam" in Tamil) analysed at the Bombay Natural History Society Laboratory, Mumbai. The following were the chief findings of the laboratory tests.

  1. The results showed presence of highly toxic heavy metals like cadmium and lead in addition to other metals like copper, manganese, zinc, sodium, magnesium and potassium in the fire-crackers.

  2. Both nitrates and nitrites of few of these metals were present. Both these radicals are oxidising agents that are a ready source of oxygen in the process of combustion.

  3. Oxides of sulphur in the form of sulphate and phosphorous in the form of phosphate were present in the samples. The mean levels of cadmium in the crackers analysed were 5.2 mg/100g. Anar and wire showed 6 and 8mg/100g, respectively.

  4. The mean level of lead was 462 mg/100g with a maximum in green sparkle showing 850mg/100g. Magnesium was found in huge quantities when compared to other metals like copper, manganese and zinc. The mean levels of magnesium was 2622mg/100g and of copper was 744mg/100g. Zinc was the least among the various metals detected with a mean level of 324mg/100g.

  5. Four acidic radicals --nitrate, nitrite, phosphate and sulphate-- were also detected. The proportion of nitrite, phosphate and sulphate in the crackers was almost similar and ranged between 1160 to 1420 mg/100gm, while nitrates which are strong oxidising agents, were found in considerable amounts when compared to the other three. Their mean levels were 1624mg/100g.

  6. Among these, oxides of sulphur, phosphorous and nitrogen are very corrosive and highly acidic while carbon monoxide, one of the oxides of carbon is an extremely poisonous gas whose presence cannot be detected by our sensory system as it is odorless.

  7. Carbon monoxide combines more than 200 times as readily as oxygen, so that low concentration levels have adverse health effects.

    Health Effects

  8. The level of suspended particles in the air increases alarmingly during Diwali, causing eye, throat and nose problems. Although most of us do not feel the immediate impact, these problems can later develop into serious health hazards, according to Dr Rajesh Chawla of Apollo hospital, New Delhi.

  9. Suspended particulate matter (SPM) exposure to the level of 100 ppm results in headache and reduced mental acuity. The effects are more pronounced in people with heart, lung or central nervous system diseases. Sulphur dioxide is readily soluble and dissolves in the larger airways of the respiratory system. This stimulates a contraction at 2 to 5 parts per million (ppm). At higher concentrations severe contraction restricts the breathing process.

  10. Nitrogen dioxide is less soluble and so penetrates to the smaller airways and into the lungs. They destroy the linings of the respiratory surface, thereby reducing the intake of oxygen for the body. These cause respiratory allergies like asthma especially to the susceptible population.

  11. Causes throat and chest congestion, and are likely to aggravate problems for those already suffering from coughs, colds and allergies.

  12. High decibel level results in restlessness, anger, fidgetiness, impulsive behaviour and over-reaction to situations. Most crackers used have more than 80 dB noise that can cause temporary hearing loss, says K K Agarwal, chairman, Health Care Foundation, New Delhi

  13. Scientific data to suggests that noise pollution can cause leads to hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart attack and sleep disturbances. Normal decibel level for humans is 60 dB. An increase by 10 decibels means double the noise volume and intensity, says Agarwal.

  14. Children, pregnant women and those suffering from respiratory problems suffer the most due to excessive noise. It results in making them hyperactive or withdrawn, says Dr Jitendra Nagpal, psychiatrist, Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (VIMHAS), Delhi.

  15. Allergic bronchitis, acute exacerbation of bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis, ephysema, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases), allergic rhinitis, laryngitis, ssinusitis, pneumonia and common cold increase durinf this times, reports Dr Naarendra B Rawal, consultant chest physician and pulmonologist. The number of his patients doubles during Diwali. The firework is one of the provoking factors for childhood bronchial asthma, he adds.

The Toxics Link study pointed out that there is threat of exposure even from the unburnt material. These particles are very small (1 to 5 microns in size) and contain metals along with carbon.

Harmful effects of Chemicals Used in Crackers:

  • Copper: Poison to humans by ingestion. Inhalation of copper dust and fume causes irritation in the respiratory tract. Absorption of excess copper results in "Wilson's disease" in which excess copper is deposited in the brain, skin, liver, pancreas and myocardium (middle muscular layer in the heart).

  • Cadmium: Can be poisonous to humans by inhalation, ingestion, intraperitonial, sub-cutaneous, intra-muscular and intravenous routes. Cadmium absorption can damage the kidneys and can cause anaemia. It is a potential human carcinogen. Cadmium causes increased blood pressure and also a disease called "Itai--Itai", which makes bones brittle resulting in multiple fractures.

  • Lead: Affects the central nervous system in humans. A poison if ingested, moderately irritating. It can cause cancer of lungs and kidneys and an experimental teratogen. When heated it can emit highly toxic fumes. In inorganic form, it is a general metabolic poison and an enzyme inhibitor. Young children can suffer mental retardation and semi-permanent brain damage by exposure to lead. Incase of lead levels in blood, the disturbing feature is that the natural levels are very close to the lowest safety limits.

  • Magnesium: Poison by ingestion, inhalation of magnesium dust and fumes can cause metal fume fever. Particles embedded in the skin can produce gaseous blebs and a gas gangrene. Dangerous fire hazard in the form of dust or flakes when exposed to flames. Manganese in the air has adverse effects on humans. Poisoning takes the form of progressive deterioration in the central nervous system.

  • Manganese: An experimental carcinogen and mutagen. Human toxicity caused by dust or fumes. The main symptoms of exposure are languor, sleepiness, weakness, emotional disturbances, spastic gait and paralysis.

  • Potassium: Dangerous fire hazard. If there is any confinement, an explosion can occur.

  • Sodium: In elemental form, it is highly reactive, particularly with moisture with which it reacts violently and therefore can attack living tissue. When heated in air, it emits toxic fumes of sodium oxide. Dangerous fire hazard when exposed to heat and moisture.

  • Zinc: Human skin irritant and effects pulmonary system. Pure zinc powder is non-toxic to humans by inhalation but difficulty arises from oxidation (burning), as it emits zinc fumes. Zinc is perhaps the least toxic of all heavy metals, in fact an essential element in animal and human nutrition, still they become toxic when absorbed in excess. Zinc stimulates the sensation of vomiting. An exposure to 150 mg of zinc can stimulate the process of vomiting in an adult male.

  • Nitrate: Large amounts taken by mouth can have serious and even fatal effects. The symptoms are dizziness, abdominal cramps, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, weakness, convulsions and collapse. Small repeated doses may lead to weakness, general depression, headache and mental impairment. Also there is some implication of increased cancer incidents among those exposed. Highly inflammable and on decomposition they emit highly toxic fumes.

  • Nitrite: Large amounts taken by mouth may produce nausea, vomiting, cyanosis, collapse and coma. Repeated small doses can cause a fall in blood pressure, rapid pulse, headaches and visual disturbances. When heated, emit highly toxic fumes of NOx.

  • Phosphorous in PO4: Poison to humans. Dangerous fire hazard when exposed to heat or chemical reaction. Poison by inhalation, ingestion, skin contact and subcutaneous routes. Ingestion affects the central nervous system. Toxic quantities have an acute effect on the liver and can cause severe eye damage.

  • Sulphur in SO4: Poison to humans by inhalation an eye, skin and mucous membrane irritant and corrosive, an experimental carcinogen. It chiefly affects the upper respiratory tract and the bronchi. It may cause edema of the lungs or glottis, and can produce respiratory paralysis. Source: Hazardous Chemicals Desk Reference, N.Irving Sax and Richard J.Lewis

The conflict between competing interests in society - safety, health, and calm on the one hand, and tradition on the other hand, has evolved over time, and the health effects are receiving greater attention. Roshan Lal, owner of the New Royal Fireworks set up in 1928 in Sadar Bazar says his family has been in the trade of crackers since the days of Prthviraj Chauhan but now the business is not profitable. A combination of political will and public support to limit health and environmental hazards, and at the same time maintain memorable traditions, is needed to restore Deepawali to its pristine flavour.

Madhumita Dutta
November 2001

The factfile on health and other hazards resulting from the bursting of firecrackers during the festival seasons is provided to India Together by Toxics Link.