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Candles Cause More Air Pollution Than Crackers? Experts Disagree!

Studies show that firecrackers have more harmful chemicals and cause more pollution than candles.

Published
WebQoof
5 min read
Studies and experts show that firecrackers have more harmful chemicals and cause more pollution than candles.
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With several states imposing a ban on firecrackers this Diwali, several social media users shared a post which falsely suggests that the air pollution caused by a candle is more than that of firecrackers.

The post compares the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by a candle and a firecracker to state that candles should be banned during Christmas celebrations, since they cause much more pollution.

However, The Quint spoke to experts in chemical engineering who stated that the comparison is unfair, and firecrackers are more harmful to our health and the environment than candles due to the other hazardous chemicals present in them.

The viral post.
The viral post.
(Source: Twitter)
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CLAIM

The image has been shared by several users on social media.

You can view an archived version <a href="https://archive.is/PFEKo">here</a>.
You can view an archived version here.
(Source: Twitter/Screenshot)

The image being shared carries the logo of Post Card News, which is notorious for peddling fake news. However, we couldn’t find the original post on their social media handles. We also came across several posts from November and December 2019.

You can view an archived version <a href="https://archive.is/LWdzB">here</a>.
You can view an archived version here.
(Source: Facebook/Screenshot)
You can view an archived version <a href="https://archive.is/FGfvr">here</a>.
You can view an archived version here.
(Source: Facebook/Screenshot)

The Quint also received a query regarding the image on its WhatsApp helpline.

ARE CANDLES AS HARMFUL AS FIRECRACKERS?

We spoke to experts who rubbished the claims and said that the comparison wasn’t the right one.

Speaking to The Quint, Abhijit Mazumdar, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at IIT Bombay, stated that comparing the carbon dioxide production of a candle and a firecracker, and then saying the candle is more harmful, is wrong.

“It’s like comparing oranges with eggs and saying that oranges are worse because they have less protein,” he said.

“The reason why we say firecrackers cause more pollution is not because they produce carbon dioxide, but because they also produce a lot of other hazardous chemicals which a candle, made of simple paraffin wax does not have. For example, sulphur and metal oxides.”
Abhijit Mazumdar, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, IIT Bombay

We also spoke to Guruswamy Kumaraswamy, Professor of Chemical Engineering at IIT Bombay, who explained that if you burn anything which has carbon in it, like a candle, petrol or oil used in diya, there is bound to be production of carbon dioxide as the carbon combines with the oxygen in the air during the process of burning.

“The issue is not of the carbon dioxide. The issue with firecrackers is with the aerosols, that is, fine sold particles suspended in air, which they generate and the metals that are used to produce vivid colours during explosion. Both of these are harmful.”
Guruswamy Kumaraswamy, Professor of Chemical Engineering, IIT Bombay

In 2018, the Supreme Court had banned the use of barium, a metal which is quite harmful for our health. However, a report by the LiveMint states that despite the ban, firecracker manufacturers continue to use barium nitrate to “maintain quality.”

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STUDIES SHOW FIRECRACKERS PRODUCE MORE PARTICULATE MATTER

Both the experts stated that particulate matter, that is, solid or liquid particles suspended in air, released by the firecrackers causes a lot of pollution.

In a 2016 study, researchers at the Indian Chest Society measured the particulate matter released by six popular firecrackers namely anar (flower pot), chakri (ground spinner), naag goli (snake tablets), pulpul (string), fuljhadi (sparkler) and laad (1000 crackers string).

It was found that the snake tablet released the most amount of particulate matter which lasted three minutes, even though the firecracker burns for merely 0.2 seconds. The flower pot released the least amount of particulate matter.

In order to have a standard form of comparison, let’s look at the median value, that is, the middle value between the highest and lowest values of the particulate matter released in the course of burning.

The snake tablet’s median value was at 39,630 microgram per meter cube (mcg/m3) of particulate matter while it was 1,866 mcg/m3 for the flower pot.

In comparison to this, a wax candle only produces a median value of 27 mcg/m3 of particulate matter, according to another study, published by the US National Library of Medicine.

DOES THE TIME FOR WHICH CANDLES BURN AFFECT POLLUTION?

Since candles burn for a longer time than a firecracker, the time period of burning is an oft-quoted argument against candle.

However, Assistant Professor Mazumdar states that the though the time period of firecrackers may be less, since the hazardous substances given off by the firecrackers are released at a highly concentrated dose, it can cause worse effects.

“The firecrackers cause a sudden spike in the air, it's not distributed evenly throughout the year. Some level of hazardous gas is always present in the air, which we can survive, but that does not mean you can put someone in a gas chamber for five seconds and that would not impact their health. If this spike goes beyond our tolerance limits, it will cause some damage,” he said.

Professor Kumaraswamy also stated that we must look at how much pollution is caused by the firecracker or candle in terms of the amount of pollutants generated. While the candle would also produce soot on burning, the firecrackers release a larger volume of aerosols and hazardous materials.

“How much you burn makes a difference. It’s a question of volume not time. For example, when you use petrol for your transportation or power plants use fuels, the volume of pollution is much more,” he added.

Evidently, studies and experts state that candles do not cause more pollution than a firecracker, and a comparison based on carbon dioxide production is unfair.

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