Science In The Passive Voice: "Communities Of Color Are Disproportionately Exposed To Air Pollution From Firework Celebrations"
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Earlier: It's Going To Be Quite A Fourth Of July In L.A.

From National Geographic:

Fireworks over North Hollywood, California. The smoke and particles created by fireworks are especially problematic for vulnerable people, often in Black and Hispanic communities.

The hidden toll of July Fourth fireworks

Using crowdsourced data from home air quality monitors, scientists found that vulnerable people and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to air pollution from firework celebrations.


… In California, for example, vulnerable populations are more exposed to fireworks pollution on the Fourth of July.

That’s according to a recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health on air pollution exposure across the state due to Independence Day fireworks. At its peak, the smoke from these events can be comparable to that from wildfires, the study found. The authors also showed that fireworks smoke may be creating an additional—albeit short term—health risk for communities already disproportionately burdened by air pollution: Urban ones with higher rates of asthma, more older residents, and a greater percentage of children under 10. These areas also tended to have more Black and Hispanic residents than those with less Fourth of July air pollution.

The high-risk communities identified in the study have “perpetual exposure to hazardous environmental toxins,” says Aisha Dickerson, an environmental epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who wasn’t involved with the paper. “This aggravates an already prevalent and persistent issue.”

… For the new study, the UC Irvine-based team of researchers took advantage of the recent proliferation of home air-quality monitors to explore how Fourth of July fireworks pollution varies across communities in California. The scientists analyzed publicly crowdsourced data from 751 commercial PurpleAir sensors in private residences across the state during June and July of 2019 and 2020.

… The researchers found that Fourth of July fireworks pollution, although transient, can be significant. In Orange County, hourly levels of PM2.5 rose up to three times higher than normal on July 4, 2019, while Los Angeles County pollution levels soared up to 10 times higher than average on July 4, 2020. The festivities in the L.A. metro area last year produced as much smoke as a moderate wildfire.

Vulnerable populations appear to be more exposed to this pollution: On average, the authors found that PM2.5 spikes around the Fourth of July were higher in urban census tracts in Southern California, areas that tend to have higher asthma rates, more older individuals and small children, and more Black and Hispanic residents, compared with rural census tracts and those further north.

In other words, Individuals of Color were shooting off more fireworks than were Individuals of Whiteness. But in an article decrying shooting off fireworks, you can’t mention who did what, because that would be racist. So, we get a lot of “shots rang out”-type grammar to imply that illegal fireworks are shooting themselves off.

Southern California metropolitan areas also tend to have fewer restrictions on municipal fireworks shows and looser oversight of at-home fireworks use compared with their counterparts in Northern California.

… The consequences of poor enforcement of fireworks regulations were laid bare last Fourth of July, when the cancellation of municipal fireworks displays due to the coronavirus pandemic prompted many people to purchase online and shoot off illegal fireworks, including bottle rockets and aerial shells at home. (In California, only non-aerial fireworks like sparklers are allowed for at-home use.) As a result, fireworks pollution was elevated across California in 2020 compared with 2019. Considering the established link between air pollution and more severe COVID-19 outcomes, Wu says last year’s pyrotechnics might have worsened the pandemic.

In other words, when institutions stopped providing free fireworks shows last year, People of Color went out and bought themselves an unbelievable number of illegal fireworks. But Communities of Color do not have agency, so simple statements of cause and effect must be obfuscated.

And, mostly, a good time was had by all on July 4, 2020, except dogs with sensitive ears. The one brush fire that was started was put out quickly and a small apartment building burned down, which is a pretty light toll for a region of 17 million people.

… Compounding the risks of fireworks this year, much of the West is currently in the grips of a historic drought, while the Pacific Northwest and parts of Canada are emerging from a record heat wave. These conditions have primed the West for wildfires—and each year, Fourth of July fireworks celebrations are one of the most predictable sources of ignition. Wildfires also produce dangerous smoke, notes Michael Kleinman, an air pollution researcher at UC Irvine who wasn’t involved with the paper. …

Given all the risks, Wu suggests it’s time for city and local governments to more aggressively crack down on illegal fireworks—something several California cities are attempting to do this year—and consider shifting to other types of public displays, such as drone light shows.

But wouldn’t arresting more fireworks shooter-offers be part of the New Jim Crow, since, judging by the direction of the noise (north of me), 98% of the fireworks in the San Fernando Valley were shot off in Latino neighborhoods? (The Valley, although being about 3% black, has no black neighborhoods, so I don’t know if blacks shot off more fireworks than normal over the last two years.)

Anyway, the 2021 SoCal sidewalk fireworks extravaganza was slightly less awe-inspiring than last year’s, and I don’t see anything in the papers today about brushfires or apartment buildings burning down this year. The weather was mild for the Fourth of July.

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