Group warns against toxic metals in firecrackers, pyrotechnic devices

TESTS conducted by a non-governmental environmental group revealed the presence of heavy metals in some firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices.

As part of its annual drive for a toxics-free celebration of Christmas and New Year, the EcoWaste Coalition on November 22 and 25 bought 20 samples of popular “paputok” and “pailaw” that have started to thrive in M. de Santos St., Divisoria as the festive holidays draw nearer.

The group then analyzed the 20 samples for heavy metals using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) equipment.

The analysis was done in time for the Department of Health-initiated stakeholders’ meeting on “Firecrackers/Fireworks Injury Prevention Program” on November 27.

Results indicated significant levels of heavy metals such as antimony, barium, chromium, copper and lead in the samples. Traces of mercury were also found in five samples.

These metals are often added to the black powder mixture of charcoal, sulfur, potassium or sodium nitrate to create the desired sparkles and colors.

None of the samples provided details about their chemical ingredients, particularly their heavy metal contents.

“While Republic Act 7183 provides for some safety and labeling requirements to be followed, the law neither bans or restricts the use of toxic chemicals in the production of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices, nor does it compel manufacturers and distributors to disclose the chemical contents on the product labels,” observed Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“On top of the deafening noise and unsightly trash, the explosion of firecrackers and fireworks creates a toxic cocktail of chemicals that is indisputably bad for public health and the environment,” she said.
Lung expert Dr. Maricar Limpin confirmed that the “blasting of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices yields greenhouse gases, metal oxides, particulates and other pollutants that we inhale, affecting the lungs and other vital organs such as the kidneys, heart and brain.” Limpin is associated with the Philippine College of Chest Physicians and the Philippine Medical Association.

Out of 20 samples, lead, a potent neurotoxin and probable human carcinogen, was detected in nine samples with a Diamond Fireworks “Great Small Magic Scourge” showing the highest level at 6,481 ppm.

The other lead-positive samples include a Diamond Fireworks “Pilipao Crackers” with 5,542 ppm lead, a Leopard King “Pili Cracker,” 2,869 ppm; a Leopard King “Happy Ball” with 2,488 ppm lead;a Tiger Fireworks “Dragon Eggs,” 2,361 ppm; a Tiger Fireworks “Pilipao Crackers,” 1,779 ppm; a Tiger Fireworks “ Dragon Egg Thunder,” 1,473 ppm; a Leopard King “Christmas Tree,” 1,235 ppm; and a Tiger Fireworks “Narcissus,” 172 ppm.

Barium was found in 17 samples with Tiger Fireworks 7″ “Sparklers” registering over 100,000 ppm of both barium and copper, followed by a Diamond Fireworks “Roman Candles” with 23,700 ppm barium and a Leopard King “Christmas Tree” with 11,800 ppm barium.

Antimony, a possible human carcinogen, was detected in “Pulling Fireworks at 11,600 ppm.

Chromium up to 666 ppm was found in four samples with Tiger Fireworks “Festival” flaming balls showing the highest level.

Trace amounts of mercury, in the range of 2.2 ppm to 5.5 ppm, were detected in Tiger Fireworks “Festival,” “Green Penoy,” “Happy Flower” and “Saturn Missiles,” and in “Pulling Fireworks.”

Antimony, chromium, lead and mercury compounds are included in the Priority Chemicals List of the Philippines, or chemicals that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources “has determined to potentially pose unreasonable risk to public health, workplace, and the environment.”

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