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July Fourth Fireworks Cause Brief Spike In Louisville Air Pollution


Louisville’s air quality monitors saw a spike in fine particle pollution from all those sparks and explosions celebrating the Fourth of July.

The spike, however, was short-lived. The pollution trended upward beginning around 9 p.m. as the sun set and people broke out the pyrotechnics. It spiked around 10 p.m. and was back within the normal range by midnight, said Tom Nord, Louisville Air Pollution Control District spokesman.

“This is the only time of the year it’s an issue and it’s not from industrial or vehicles, it’s literally from people shooting fireworks,” Nord said. “The good news is, it’s not the worst we’ve had.”

Fine particle pollution is from microscopic particles smaller than the width of a single human hair. It can include dust, soot, car exhaust and smoke from burning things like wood, coal and fireworks.

Fine particle pollution gets into your lungs and bloodstream contributing to a whole range of health issues including increasing the risk of asthma, heart disease and possibly even diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Nord said long-term exposure is a lot more of a concern than short-lived spikes in the pollution, but noted that the short-term pollution can still impact sensitive groups.

“It’s exposure over a long period of time that really hurts you so an hour or two of a spike isn’t necessarily going to be all that harmful,” Nord said.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers fine particle pollution among its top priorities when it comes to air pollution. Nord said Louisville’s fine particle pollution is well below federal standards and has been since 2014.

In both 2014 and 2015, Louisville residents did manage to exceed the federal 24-hour standard for particle pollution with their July Fourth fireworks displays.

It’s technically against city ordinance to shoot off airborne and exploding fireworks in city limits, though you wouldn’t know it stepping outside Thursday night.


Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.