Environmental Protection

Future Fireworks May Dazzle without Perchlorate

A new generation of “green” fireworks is quietly making its way toward the sky.

Fireworks, flares, and other so-called “pyrotechnics” traditionally have included potassium perchlorate as the oxidizer, a material that provides the oxygen that fireworks need to burn. Perchlorate, however, is an environmental pollutant with potential adverse effects on people and wildlife. Pyrotechnics contain other ingredients, such color-producing heavy metals, with a similar potential.

Studies have shown that perchlorate from community fireworks displays conducted over lakes, for instance, can lead to perchlorate contamination of the water.

Researchers, however, have developed new pyrotechnic formulas that replace perchlorate with nitrogen-rich materials or nitrocellulose that burn cleaner and produce less smoke, according to an article in the American Chemical Society’s weekly newsmagazine, Chemical & Engineering News. These formulas also use fewer color-producing chemicals, dramatically cutting down on the amount of heavy metals used and lowering their potentially toxic effects.

Some of these fireworks have already been used at circuses, rock concerts, and other events, but none have been used at large outdoor displays. The problem is cost. Fireworks manufacturers have little incentive to further develop the new green fireworks because no federal regulations currently limit releases of perchlorate from pyrotechnics.

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