Fireworks

Letter | What’s really in those ‘Monday Night Lights?’ over Murrells Inlet

July 14, 2014 

Fireworks at the Murrells inlet Marshwalk.

THE SUN NEWS FILE PHOTO

Everyone knows about the plastic, wire, and other debris from fireworks, but do you know what makes those wonderful colors? The colors come from hot glowing metals and from the light emitted by burning chemical compounds.

According to an article by Anne Marie Heimenstine, Ph.D in Chemistry.About.com, here is what’s used to make the typical firework:

Aluminum – Used to produce silver and white flames and sparks.

Antimony – Used to create glitter effects.

Barium – Used to create green colors, and to stabilize other volatile elements.

Calcium – Used to deepen fireworks colors, and calcium salts produce orange.

Carbon – Main component in Black Power, and provides the fuel for a firework.

Chlorine – A component of many oxidizers in fireworks. Several of the metal salts that produce colors contain chlorine.

Copper – Produces blue colors.

Iron – Used to produce sparks.

Lithium – Used to produce red colors.

Magnesium – Burns a very bright white, and used to add white sparks.

Oxygen – Oxidizers such as nitrates, chlorates, or perchlorates are used to provide oxygen in order for burning to occur.

Phosphorus – Burns spontaneously in air and is used for some glow-in-the-dark effects.

Potassium – Potassium nitrate, chlorate, and perchlorate are all important oxidizers.

Sodium – Used to impart a gold or yellow color.

Sulfur – A component of black power found in the propellant and fuels the explosion.

Strontium – Strontium salts impart a red color.

Titanium – This metal can burn as a power or flakes to produce silver sparks.

Zinc – Used to create smoke effects.

This is easy to verify, just look up elements in fireworks.

So here is the bottom line. I have no problem with occasional fireworks displays, I like them. However 10 weeks in a row with the 4th of July thrown into the mix, all from the same location, all with generally the same prevailing wind, all impacting the same general area of our marsh is a problem.

Why? Because none of the compounds or elements listed above are burned completely. It does not take a chemist, which I am, to understand this. Hunters and sport shooters know they must clean their guns after shooting because residue is left in the barrel. Fireworks are the same, combustion is never complete. Quantifying how much is left and falls to the ground or in the water is the hard part. Each shell is different, and humidity, temperature, and other factors can influence the completeness of the burn. I can assure you that, along with the debris you can see, residuals from all the elements above are falling into our marsh.

The writer lives in Murrells Inlet.

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