Environment

Fireworks are part of most Fourth of July celebrations. All across the city, events big and small send tiny minuscule particles into the air, sometimes causing air pollution to spike.

Unlike the ozone pollution that’s often the cause of Louisville’s summer air quality alerts, fireworks contribute to a different problem: particulate matter, or soot, which is linked to health problems like aggravated asthma and respiratory problems.

“Generally speaking, we don’t see violations of the pollution standards [on Fourth of July], but we have seen them, it has happened,” said Louisville Air Pollution Control District spokesman Tom Nord.

In recent memory, the city exceeded particulate matter air quality standards on July 4, 2014 and 2015.

Nord said it often takes more than one big event to exceed the federal standards. Even huge fires like the 2015 one at General Electric’s Appliance Park or large fireworks events like Thunder Over Louisville don’t tend to throw the city out of compliance.

“Even though it will affect you locally, as a general rule a single event in a single area is not enough to affect the air for the entire community,” Nord said.

But on Independence Day, there are multiple community fireworks displays, in addition to the large one at Waterfront Park. And there are also people setting off smaller-scale fireworks in most neighborhoods of the city. All of this can cause air pollution to spike, even if it doesn’t exceed the federal standard.

“It’s a one day of the year, and so we’re not trying to be a scold or anything, but just remember there are people with respiratory problems, there’s kids with asthma, and the smoke does tend to linger around the neighborhoods,” Nord said. “So be considerate and remember there are people who are affected by this stuff.”

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.