Icelanders are known for setting off huge amounts of fireworks on New Year’s Eve. In 2015, they purchased on average 1.8 kg of fireworks per person, nearly 600 tonnes of fireworks in total. The celebratory tradition lights up the skies and raises money for search and rescue operations, but it has obvious downsides for the environment.
The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue will sell fireworks in 130 locations around the country this year. The yearly sale supports the work of the largely volunteer organization. Jón Ingi Sigvaldason from ICE-SAR encourages all those who are setting off fireworks to use caution and clean up their surroundings after the fun is over.
Freezing temperatures and still weather are expected on New Year’s Eve. Though the conditions may be great for those stepping out to light up the skies, they could cause pollution from the fireworks to stick around longer.
“These are not at all ideal conditions on New Year’s Eve in the capital area,” stated Teitur Arason, Icelandic Met Office meteorologist. “What happens if the temperature is around freezing is there is no horizontal ventilation, no wind. In addition, there is a shallow layer at the bottom where all pollution ends up. When it’s freezing there it’s not just a lack of the horizontal effect rather the pollution is collected in a very shallow layer next to the surface[...] Weren’t there some 600 tonnes of fireworks imported last year? To blow it all up in this shallow layer above the capital, that’s maybe not too clever.”
According to a notice released today by the Environment Agency of Iceland, similar weather conditions caused high levels of pollution last year. Just after midnight on New Year’s Day 2017, the half time of suspended particulate matter reached almost 2500 μg/m3. For reference, the highest half time value measured during the preceding week was 170 μg/m3. Subsequent to January 1, 2017, the daily concentration was around 160 μg/m3, more than three times higher than what is considered safe. Average daily levels throughout the year are usually below 20μg/m3 in the Reykjavík capital area.
The notice points out pollution from fireworks also contains heavy metals such as lead, copper, and zinc, which can have negative effects on humans and animals.
The Environment Agency of Iceland ends their message by encouraging Icelanders to choose quality over quantity when it comes to fireworks: buy fewer and enjoy them more.