June 25, 2009

July 4th fireworks might go ‘green’

The American Chemical Society says Fourth of July fireworks across the United States, as well as July 1 for Canada Day observances, might go green.

The ACS says a new generation of green fireworks is quietly making its way toward the sky -- green as in environmentally friendly.

Fireworks, flares and other pyrotechnics traditionally have included potassium perchlorate as the oxidizer, a material that provides the oxygen that fireworks need to burn, the society said. However, perchlorate is an environmental pollutant with potential adverse effects on people and wildlife.

The ACS says scientists have developed new pyrotechnic formulas that replace perchlorate with nitrogen-rich materials or nitrocellulose that burn cleaner and produce less smoke.

Bethany Halford, an associate editor of the society's weekly newsmagazine, Chemical & Engineering News, says the nitrogen-rich formulas also use fewer color-producing chemicals, dramatically cutting down on the amount of heavy metals used and lowering their potentially toxic effects.

The big challenge, Halford said, is making the eco-friendly fireworks cost-competitive with conventional fireworks, while maintaining their dazzle and glow.

Halford's comments appear in the current issue of the ACS newsmagazine.

A study focusing on perchlorate contamination of lakes after fireworks displays is reported in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.