Chinese New Year fireworks contribute to smog

Setting off  fireworks to ward off evil and invite luck is a long standing tradition of the Chinese Spring Festival, but the joy of the celebration nowadays comes at an increasingly high cost, particularly in terms of environmental damage.

A possible fireworks ban ahead of Spring Festival, which fell on Feb 10 this year, had been anticipated by many experts since Beijing witnessed the worst period of smog for decades in January. The government decided to issue a ‘firework index’ during the Spring Festival holiday season based on weather conditions, including wind forces, to determine whether to allow setting off fireworks or firecrackers.

Many parts of central and eastern China suffered more than 20 smog days in January, the worst since 1961, according to the National Climate Center. The lack of cold air and continuous industrial emissions are the major cause of the prolonged smog, said Ma Xuekuan, chief forecaster for the National Meteorological Center. Pollutants produced by fireworks can be diminished quickly on windy days, which can cause little pollution, but they will cause or aggravate smog in unfavorable conditions. In a poll of more than 1,700 people by popular writer Zheng Yuanjie on Sina Weibo, about 85 percent of people supported banning fireworks when the weather is polluted.

This year, many regional governments imposed measures to restrict the time and location of letting off fireworks. The Hebei government shortened the time to three days, while in Beijing  residents have been encouraged to restrain themselves, so they can enjoy better air quality and blue skies. In Beijing, according to the Beijing Municipal Commission of City Administration and Environment, more than 1,586 metric tons of fireworks waste was removed from midnight on the eve to 9 am Sunday, about 155 tons less than last year.

Liu Yang, a resident in Shijiazhuang, is one of the many Chinese people trying to make  a positive change. Lui, the mother of a 10-month-old baby boy, this year bought strings of electronic fireworks and hung them in her house as decorations instead of  traditional fireworks.  “I can hear the sound and see the sparkling lights, which is enough for me to feel festive,” she said.

However not everyone followed suit, on the nights of celebration she said, “The air was so bad that my parents and my son could not walk out the house.” She bought several more strings of electronic fireworks to give to her relatives, she says though they all loved the gift they still went ahead and bought fireworks and firecrackers. “It’s a tradition that cannot be changed over a short time,” she said. “But I hope we can do something to reduce the huge amount of fireworks burnt each year.”

Like Lui Yang, many other residents are equally concerned, but in varying degrees. Li Xiao’ou, 25, a Beijing resident, compromised by cutting down the time and amount spent on fireworks. “I know we urgently need to protect the environment, but it’s not appropriate to ban fireworks because they are so much a part of the festivities,” he said. So Li decided to spend only 100 yuan ($16) on fireworks this year. Although many voiced their concern about the air pollution, many said they still support the traditional fireworks celebration during the festival.

“Some may complain about the noise, but fireworks are one of the symbols of Spring Festival, and they remind us that it’s a new year,” said Wu Jinghui, a resident of Shijiazhuang.”A large part of pollutants comes from industrial pollution and vehicle emissions. Compared to these, the pollution from the fireworks is limited, and only for a short period,” he said. “The government needs to strengthen efforts to deal with the main sources instead of banning fireworks.”

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