National Geographic caused a stir by suggesting that Fourth of July fireworks are racist because their smoke disproportionately affects communities of color.
The publication marked Independence Day on Sunday by tweeting: ‘Scientists found that vulnerable people and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to air pollution from firework celebrations.’
The tweet included a link to an article about a study which found that communities of color and vulnerable populations with higher rates of asthma, older residents and children, are exposed to higher levels of smoke from firework displays than other groups.
The study by researches at the University of California‘s Irvine campus suggests that law enforcement should crack down on illegal displays and that municipal and corporate displays should be replaced by drone light shows.
National Geographic’s tweet was met with swift criticism from Twitter users who branded it unnecessarily divisive and decried the outlet for putting a damper on the holiday.
National Geographic recently tweeted that the smoke produced by Fourth of July fireworks cause more harm to communities of color
It cites an 18-page study published on May 27 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that used crowdsourced data to assess how air pollution affects communities across California
‘It never ends with the ridiculous headlines about race. Give it a rest,’ one critic replied to National Geographic.
‘What happened to the old Nat Geo, where we talked about animals and how amazing they are?’ another added.
A third critic wrote: ‘Honestly, I am a scientist and this is beyond ridiculous.’
‘LET US ENJOY THE DAMN FIREWORKS,’ a fourth tweeted.
In the 18-page study, published on May 27 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers from UC Irvine used crowdsourced data to assess how air pollution affects communities across California, which is already known to have some of the highest levels of air pollution across the country.
The article begins, ‘It’s no secret that fireworks can cause some serious air pollution, in the United States as well as in other countries where holiday displays are common, like China and India.
‘But not everyone is equally at risk from the noxious particles that suffuse the sky during our pyrotechnic light shows. In California, for example, vulnerable populations are more exposed to fireworks pollution on the Fourth of July.’
The study used a home-air monitoring system called PurpleAir to detect levels of PM2.5, which are inhalable smoke particles less than 2.5 micrometers, in 751 homes across California during June and July of 2019 and 2020. According to the study, such particles contain metals like strontium, barium, and lead.
‘This increase was most pronounced in southern counties, which tend to have less strict firework-related regulations and a greater use of illegal fireworks,’ the study reads.
‘Our findings highlight the important role that policy and enforcement can play in reducing firework-related air pollution and protecting public health.’
It states that in Orange County, hourly levels of PM2.5 rose up to three times higher than normal on July 4, 2019, while Los Angeles County pollution levels soared up to 10 times higher than average on July 4, 2020.
The study used a home-air monitoring system called PurpleAir to detect levels of PM2.5, which are inhalable smoke particles less than 2.5 micrometers, in 751 homes across California during June and July of 2019 and 2020
The study claims the smoke from fireworks displays disproportionately affect communities of color and vulnerable populations with higher rates of asthma, older residents and children
National Geographic stated that Fourth of July fireworks at their peak can produce enough smoke to rival wildfires.
‘And while the pollution from a single fireworks display tends to dissipate quickly, many fireworks being set off over the Fourth of July can cause regional air pollution levels to spike and remain elevated for several days, posing a potentially serious health risk to vulnerable populations,’ the article reads.
It states that the issue of illegal fireworks was magnified last year when many corporate and municipal fireworks displays were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic so more residents went the illegal route.
The article adds that this year was no different as many residents were eager to celebrate the country’s emergence from the pandemic and there were more displays nationwide.
‘These results highlight the potential for greater adverse effects related to firework activity and the need for increased advocacy as well as more effective firework regulations and/or enforcement in key areas,’ the study concludes before suggesting that municipalities could host alternatives to fireworks displays, such as drone light shows.
‘Government-scale investments could potentially expedite the adoption and use of such technology and, in turn, help solve the health and environmental concerns related to conventional fireworks moving forward.’