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New year fireworks and air pollution

Fireworks exposes people to an invisible danger

Fireworks exposes people to an invisible danger

Eindhoven, new year’s midnight

AiREAS is a civilian initiative (sustainocratic) in Eindhoven (the Netherlands) to co-create a healthy city using air pollution measurement and health research as guiding principles. End 2013 a fine maze air pollution network was installed and calibrated. It measures small particles (PM) in the air all the way down to UFP (ultra fine particles), which are smaller than a virus and dangerous for human health. This network (called ILM) measures and communicates results every 10 minutes. This virtual real time measurement is unique in the world in combination with the enormous amount of data that is gathered. It’s design and installation was done at a much lower cost than usual and is still being optimized for usages around the world.

The technological partners are ECN, Philips and Imtech. Scientific partners for the ILM network design are: IRAS and ITC. Government partners are: the city of Eindhoven and Province of North Brabant. The social partners are the citizen’s of Eindhoven.

A team of technological, social and scientific specialists works with the data stimulating and measuring for feedback all kinds of innovative activities in the city that produce a healthier living mentality, organisation and environment.

New year’s fireworks

During new year celebration the Dutch population fires off a small fortune of fireworks in the streets of the country. Curiosity arose to the effects of this peak of explosive fun to the environment? For the first time a view could be obtained through the ILM.

Sharp peaks of fine particles

Sharp peaks of fine particles

This graph shows the average pollution level of the day of PM10 (the biggest particles measured). During the day people went out to have fun with their explosives, showing tremendous local peaks, especially at the height of the celebration around 00:30 at new year’s eve. These peaks surpass all year, day and week averages.

The PM 10 average from midnight till 1:00 am was mapped over the city, showing areas of extreme pollution (the lightest areas on the map with the purple area of pollution).

The average during the peak of the celebration

The average during the peak of the celebration

This map is difficult to “read”. You have to imagine the city map underneath it, as show here (with the main road infrastructure on the left as your guiding marker of the city boundary):

Map of Eindhoven with ILM measurement locations

Map of Eindhoven with ILM measurement locations

The fireworks activity was concentrated in the residence areas of the city. The city center hardly showed any significant pollution peaks.

Ultrafine Particles (UFP):

The most dangerous pollution are the UFPs. These are so small (smaller than a virus) that they pass through our cellular system with ease, producing small infections that lead to cardiac, lung, blood vessel, bladder and even brain problems, including cancer. The effects do not just produce physical problems but also productivity and behavioral disorder. For a long time it was thought that only long term exposure was affecting people. Now we know that any exposure produces the potential health issues. The more one is exposed the higher the probability.

During this particular new years night AiREAS measured UFP at 4 locations. The highly specialized UFP equipment (Philips) is much more expensive and hence designed as an add on module. This equipment is still very much hand made. When the world reacts and decides to increase the demand by establishing Local AiREAS initiatives or ILM infrastructures we will be able to reduce these particular equipment cost with a factor 20, making it affordable for just about any region.

UFP measured at 4 sites

UFP measured at 4 sites

The measurement of UFP at the 4 sites in Eindhoven shows that the peaks expand to over 600.000 UFP per cm3! This is 20 to 30 times more than our normal exposure. For over 1 hour the people (mostly youngsters) dealing with the fireworks were exposed to this invisible threat.


The weather that night was favorable to reduce the effects of pollution with certain speed. There was a light rain and a breeze of wind. We see that the peaks of larger particles seem to disappear quicker that the UFP. The behavior of the various particles is subject of scientific analysis still so little conclusions can yet be drawn.


Specialists are still going to analyse the data from air pollution and health points of view. Little we can conclude at this stage other than the civilian concern of such direct and indirect exposure to invisible threats, to us and our children that deal with it. The joy of the beauty or excitement of fireworks needs to be compensated with the growing awareness of its visible and invisible dangers. How we are going to deal with this new awareness will be a point of discussion added to the long list of steps that are already recognized to transform the city and its operations for health.


For more information about AiREAS you can contact me or any of the partners of the cooperative venture.

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