Last week authorities in China asked that New Year celebrations include fewer fireworks in a bid to reduce the pollution scourge that is hitting the country’s cities. This week the Chinese government went a step further, announcing that fireworks could be banned entirely on days of serious pollution levels.
“Cooperation with meteorological authorities is needed so that setting off fireworks can be banned on certain days,” said Kang Jiyong, secretary-general of the Beijing Fireworks Association.
Other compulsory measures taken by the authorities in case of extremely serious pollution levels include suspending works at construction sites, cutting the use of government vehicles by 30 percent and closing heavily polluting factories.
The measures may sound irrational, but many cities of the central and eastern China suffered the worst level of pollution since 1961, according to data provided by the National Climate Center.
(READ MORE: Freezing temperatures add to China’s pollution woes)
With pollution levels already rising to far beyond what is considered safe, fireworks add a dangerous cocktail of chemicals to the atmosphere. Environmentalists say fireworks can even pollute water supplies. Others suggest the pollution caused by fireworks is negligible compared to the pollution already caused by the burning of fossil fuels, vehicles and so on.
On Chinese micro-blogging service Weibo, the jury was still out early this week.
“The fireworks can be banned and other measures can also be taken to control pollution. Blue skies are a pleasure for the eyes, but fireworks are a fun only permitted during the few holiday days. Which one is the correct choice then?” says a Weibo user in her public account.
“I totally agree with this measure. The pollution is getting bigger and I can perfectly remember last year when a firework broke one of my window’s glasses and got into my house floor. It’s just an extravagance and a waste,” adds another user called Lin.
Fireworks are already being sold in the shops and stands around the country but prices this year may not rise as high as previous seasons. Sales are also down. Panda Fireworks Group, one of the biggest fireworks sellers in Beijing, said sales have fallen 5.11 percent, according to data published by Chinese official media.
The three biggest fireworks distributors in Beijing reduced their inventories, down 60,000 cases to 750,000 cases. Meanwhile security authorities around the country have confiscated more than 230,000 boxes of substandard fireworks since December and have detained around 1,500 suspects of selling illegal materials.
Accidents connected with fireworks often make the front pages during the Spring Festival holidays. This year the saddest episode so far took place on February 1, when a truck carrying fireworks exploded in central Henan province, killing 10 people and injuring around 11. The explosion caused a bridge collapsed.
In March 2011, an explosion at a school in southwestern Jiangxi province causing the death of 33. In December of the same year, an explosion in a factory located in a village in the same province left 39 dead.
In 2007 fireworks were blamed for a spectacular fire that caused the death of a fireman and injured six others in a hotel tower near China’s CCTV television headquarters in Beijing.