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A Greener Diwali
November 11, 2015, 5:29 pm

The diyas, or earthen lamps lit on the moonless Diwali nights, symbolizes victory of light over darkness, of enlightenment over ignorance. This Diwali is as good a time as any, to become educated about the harmful effects and hazards that unruly celebrations can pose to the environment and to the people, plants and animals around you. This year, celebrate the ‘Festival of Light’ with explosions of laughter and joy brightened by the lights of love and friendship, rather than the noise and pollution of firecrackers. 

Some people measure the level of their celebrations by the loudest and brightest firecrackers that they can ignite. While the loud glittering bursts give them the thrill of a momentary ‘high’, it leaves a lingering impact on the environment.

The toxic fume released by the burst of firecrackers irritates the respiratory tract, harms the nervous system and generally affects the health of living organisms. The resulting noise also hurts the sick and the old, especially those using hearing aids, as well as causes untold suffering to birds and animals.

If you need further convincing, just think about the fact that most firecrackers that you gleefully light are made by child laborers. These children are forced to work in home-based factories that supply the major firework manufacturers in places such as Sivakasi in India’s Tamil Nadu state. The firework industry in Sivakasi, which produces nearly 85 percent of the fireworks in India and employs over 400,000 people, directly and indirectly, was estimated to worth over US$303 million in 2014.

Firecrackers produced in these factories use charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate with aluminum in order to brighten the explosion. Meanwhile, the innocuous sounding ‘sparklers’ use oxidizers such as potassium nitrate. The fuel is charcoal and sulfur, with starch as a binder. Aluminum, iron, steel, zinc or magnesium dust is added to create those bright, shimmering sparks we all love to watch.

Fireworks also generate a variety of air pollutants, like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, in addition to aerosols or particulate matter that worsens lung conditions like asthma.

The result of working with these caustic, hazardous chemicals in cramped unhygienic conditions, leave most of these child laborers with scalded hands and nails. Many of them suffer permanent damage to their lungs and skin and some die young deaths.

Here’s a sobering thought for this Diwali, many of the children behind the glitter and noise of the firecrackers we burst are not around to see or hear it.

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