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Just about everyone enjoys fireworks, which are undeniably beautiful. But with that beauty may come a price. The stunning sight-and-sound displays often used to celebrate special occasions are actually fiery explosives that carry a well-established risk of burns and physical injuries. As most people are aware, however, that risk can be minimized with the use of proper safety measures.

Fireworks over the cityBut what about toxic fallout? Fireworks are combustibles made of gunpowder, accelerant, heavy metals and numerous contaminants, such as ozone, carbon dioxide, nitric oxide and sulfur dioxide. Their blast can introduce particulates and gases into the environment that have a detrimental effect on air quality. And because firework displays often take place over oceans, rivers and lakes, their fallout can also potentially contaminate water sources.

Given the environmental concerns, many people may understandably wonder whether fireworks are also hazardous to human health. For instance, when inhaled into the lungs, can the smoke and dust generated by pyrotechnic displays cause respiratory problems, adverse cardiopulmonary effects or cancer?

More data is needed

Over the years, the amount and size of firework displays have steadily increased, but there has been no commensurate increase in research studies designed to investigate the possible health effects. What’s more, any such studies already underway routinely remove health and exposure assessment data gathered during common celebratory periods, such as Independence Day and New Year’s Eve, when firework activity typically spikes. Although more data is needed, there is currently no concrete evidence of any direct link between fireworks and cancer.

As researchers continue to study the impact of fireworks on human health and the environment, some public safety and environmental advocates are encouraging the use of alternatives to traditional pyrotechnics during festivities. Some possible options include laser light shows, parades and block parties, as well as new technology that uses environmentally friendly compressed air in place of gunpowder to launch fireworks. The thought is that by celebrating our freedom in a nonhazardous way, we can avoid sacrificing some of that freedom—namely, our health—to a contaminated environment.

If you have questions or would like to discuss your cancer risk profile with an expert at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online. 


National Center for Biotechnology Information – Toxicity of Particles Emitted by Fireworks