MAP OF THE WEEK:
Fireworks are a beloved tradition when celebrating the Fourth of July but the magical display also brings a spike in air pollution. Fine particulate matter, which includes soot, ash and dust is emitted when fireworks go off. According to the EPA, extended exposure to fine particulate matter may lead to coughing, wheezing and even early death in people with pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.
This week’s Map of the Week looks at the mean concentration of fine particulate matter in the air throughout the Fourth of July weekend. I analyzed data from the EPA, which includes an arithmetic mean of fine particulate matter in the air over the years 2000 to 2014. The data comes from the EPA’s AirNow website which features air quality data collected at 379 outdoor monitors across the United States. Significant increases in concentrations of firework – related chemicals were apparent on July 4th and persisted through July 5th. According to a study done in 2015, the level of particulate matter increased by 42% on average across the U.S on the Fourth of July.
After mapping the data set, the results showed that many of the most polluted sites coincide with the country’s popular metropolitan areas like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington DC. This could be because of the immaculate firework displays and larger populations in these urban areas. A million spectators watched Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks just last year. It could be that more populous states put on bigger fireworks displays and thus emit more particulate matter into the air. People sitting downwind from the fireworks are at the most risk. While the dramatic increase in pollution may seem daunting, public health experts say that the pollutant levels must be sustained for a longer period of time before widespread health problems occur. EPA air pollution rules discount particulate matter from fireworks when monitoring dangerous pollution levels.