Beijing's New Year's Fireworks Tripled Pollution Levels Overnight

beijing fireworks pollution photo

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

On the final day of New Year's celebrations, errant fireworks set Rem Koolhaas' TVCC building aflame, killing one firefighter and turning the building into an ominous sign for a difficult year ahead and a symbol for the end of an early century starchitecture boom. But the fireworks that night also left the city under the thickest veil of pollution it has seen since May.At Live From Beijing, Vance Wagner noted

We've seen some dramatically rapid air quality changes in the past here in Beijing, but I can't remember ever seeing a spike like this that could be directly tied to a single event.
.(See the spike on this Ministry of Environmental Protection graph)

china beijing cctv tvcc fireworks air pollution photo

TVCC fire (The Beijinger)
Dramatic Spike
The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau acknowledged that the concentration of particulate matter (PM10) had reached 400 micrograms per cubic meter, and in certain areas, reached 810 micrograms per cubic meter.

"Heavy Pollution" is what the EPB calls this. The US EPA calls it concentration hazardous. World Health Organization's long-term exposure standard for PM10 particulate matter is a concentration of 20 micrograms per cubic meter.

The fire and the pollution has reignited an occasional debate over fireworks safety, and has led authorities towards reimplementing a ban on fireworks that was partially lifted in 2006.

Water Pollution Too
A couple of years ago we noted that as awesome as they are, fireworks can be bad not only for air but water quality, causing spikes in noxious perchlorates in nearby water bodies.

The silver lining here is that pollution in Beijing appears to be decreasing on the whole. The restrictions on cars and factories for the two months around the Olympics had a dramatic impact on pollution, resulting in a 50 percent drop in NO2 and a 20 percent cut in CO2, according to recent NASA satellite data. (See the Asia Society's new "Room with a View" blog, which gives us a daily snapshot of the sky in Beijing.)

Last year, we pointed out that fakery of pollution statistics was hurting efforts to stem pollution in the capital. But might Beijing consider turning again to fake fireworks?

More on TreeHugger:
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Fireworks: Fun for the Whole Family or Dangerous Water Contaminants?
Fireworks: The Annual Whine About Their Environmental Impact
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