BOOMING sights might have dangerous consequences.

Despite never-ending precautions from the government, having fireworks or firecrackers for the New Year’s celebration remains a common Filipino practice.

Statistics from the Department of Health (DOH) showed that 987 of the 1,021 fireworks-related injuries are directly caused by fireworks and firecrackers during Christmas and New Year festivities last year. The figure was slightly higher than the recorded 972 out of 1,022 in 2011. Also, cases of firecracker ingestion also went down to five from 11, as well as stray bullet incidents from 39 to 29.

However, since the culture of using fireworks in the country still remains, experts advise extra caution in usage as to not result in dangerous infections.

According to Maria Salve Olalia, UST Health Service director, infections such as tetanus come as a result of mishandling firecrackers.

“Tetanus, a secondary infection of sustained wounds, is a serious disease arising from firecracker misuse,” Olalia said. “In the case of ingestion, the main ingredient of watusi, [which is] phosphorus, is toxic and can lead to serious conditions.”

Tetanus is an infectious and fatal disease caused by the toxin-producing bacterium Clostridium tetani often reproduced in deep and contaminated wounds.

Moreover, a study conducted by the Spain-based Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research (IDAEA) showed that metallic particles dispersed through firework smoke pose a threat to one’s health.

“The toxicological research has shown that many of the metallic particles in the smoke from fireworks are bio-reactive and can affect human health,” said Teresa Moreno, a researcher from IDAEA.

The metals contained in fireworks produce colors when exposed to the heat which further form the reaction among the fireworks’ main ingredients—fuel, gunpowder, and oxidizers— which are agents used to support the combustion of fuel.

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The most common oxidizing agent used in fireworks is perchlorate, a kind of salt that replaces iodine in the thyroid gland when ingested. Such ingestion could impair the function of thyroid hormones, which are responsible for metabolism and mental development, and may possibly lead to hypothyroidism.

Experts warned that these metals are hazardous, especially for the respiratory system, because these are not fully-consumed during the combustion process.

“They can get aerosolized and breathed in or they go into the soil and water,” said David Chavez, a chemist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) based in the United States.

Meanwhile, Moreno said the particles could be particularly harmful to people with existing respiratory problems.

“This poses a risk to health, and the effects are probably more acute in people with a background of asthma or cardiovascular problems,” she said.Smoke from fireworks also contains minute particles that can get lodged up in the lungs, where further exposure to these particles has been proven to cause lung cancer.There are also treatments that a patient would have to undergo to treat the complications caused by fireworks and firecrackers misuse.

“Emergency care involves wound care, tetanus vaccination and surgical intervention, and toxicology treatments,” Olalia said.

‘Green’ fireworks

As an answer to the need for a safer and “greener” way of celebrating special occasions, experts were able to come up with a less dangerous kind of fireworks.

LANL chemist Mike Hiskey came up with a set of nitrogen-based fireworks, which consume only a tenth of the barium found in conventional fireworks and are free of perchlorates.

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This kind of fireworks substituted perchlorates with nitrocellulose, a highly-flammable compound commonly used as propellant or explosive.

“Nitrocellulose has its own oxygen, so it doesn’t require a lot of additional oxidants, and it burns very cleanly,” Hiskey said.

These pyrotechnic devices produce less smoke which makes its colors look more vivid and are able to produce deep red and blue colors, unlike the traditional ones, Chavez added.

Finding alternatives

DOH launched “Aksyon Paputok Injury Reduction” or APIR as a new strategy to promote safety during the celebration of holidays last year.

The said campaign, which is relaunched for 2012, circled on the spread of the proper guidelines for not using pyrotechnics and safety reminders to avoid the worst case scenario.

“This is line to reduce the number of injuries this year and possibly, zero deaths,” DOH undersecretary Eric Tayag said, adding that the results were insignificant last year.

The health department added the Gangnam Style in their campaign launch, hoping that they can get more attention in preventing or reducing the numbers through the dance craze’s popularity.

The Philippine National Police also released guidelines to identify what constitutes an illegal firecracker.

Included in the criteria are oversized and overweight firecrackers, perchlorate and phosphorus mixtures, fuse exploding less than three seconds or more than six seconds, and imported fireworks.

DOH suggested the use of alternative noise-makers like car horns and torotot, active participation in community fireworks display, and joining street parties, concerts, or games.

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