SHANGHAI - Fireworks set off during the Chinese lunar new year holiday led to air pollution throughout the country, while also being blamed as the cause of many fire accidents and injuries.
Often set off during the Chinese New Year holiday with a goal of warding off evil spirits, fireworks have come at a serious environmental cost, filling the air with high levels of sulfur and thick smoke and pushing up the air-pollution index across large cities.
In Shanghai, the real-time air quality monitoring and forecasting system showed that the local pollution index jumped from below 100 at 8 pm on Sunday to 439 at midnight on Monday, a time span that coincided with frequent ignitions of fireworks.
According to China's environmental standards, readings below 50 indicate "excellent" air quality, while results of up to 100 are considered to be "good". Anything above 100 is a sign of pollution.
Across China, 22 of the country's 86 most prominent cities saw their air-pollution index rise past 100 on Monday, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
That was on the fifth day of the Chinese lunar new year, when many Chinese set off fireworks to usher in the God of Fortune and bring good luck for the year.
The pollution was even worse on Feb 3, the first day of the lunar new year, when incessant pyrotechnics on Chinese New Year's Eve pushed the index to pollution levels in 56 cities, of which four were considered to be seriously polluted. A day earlier, only 16 cities were registered as suffering from air pollution.
In Nanjing, where the air-pollution index surged past 500 in the wake of the fireworks celebrations on Chinese New Year's Eve, authorities said the numbers of fireworks ignited this holiday was several times in excess of that of previous years, resulting in the worst air quality of any of the six most recent Spring Festivals.
"The major air pollutant is particulate matter, which is largely caused by huge amounts of ignited fireworks," said Fu Qingyan, deputy chief engineer from the Shanghai's air monitoring center.
Besides causing air pollution, China's traditional way of celebrating the lunar new year strewed huge amounts of trash across the country.
Figures from Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau showed the celebration left behind about 1,000 tons of burnt rubbish in the city on Monday, almost the same as on Feb 3.
Fireworks were also blamed for a large number of fires during the festivities.
Firefighters battled 5,945 blazes throughout the country during a 32-hour span that began on Feb 2 and lasted until to 8 am on Feb 3, according to the fire control bureau of the Ministry of Public Security.
With all these figures showing firework's harmful effects, debate has arisen again over whether the government should readopt prohibitions on the use of firecrackers. Starting in 1993, many cities instituted bans meant to reduce fireworks-related deaths and fires during the holiday season. Most of the rules, though, were repealed 12 years later in response to residents' fondness for using fireworks to celebrate the Spring Festival.
"While we do respect traditions, the fact that fireworks cause fires and air pollution and create piles of trash should make us pause and adopt new practices, such as burning fewer fireworks and setting apart designated areas for them," said Qiu Min, a Shanghai resident.
But others said the Chinese have been igniting fireworks in celebration of the lunar new year for 2,000 years and that so long-standing of a tradition will be difficult to alter.
(China Daily 02/09/2011 page5)