Mumbai: Even as the city waits in dread for a further decline in air quality during the Diwali weekend, chemical testing of firecrackers samples has revealed that many brands labeled as ‘green’ are not as benign as claimed.
The testing, by anti-noise campaign group Awaaz Foundation, revealed that many of the samples contained chemicals listed as ‘hazardous’ under environmental laws. Other fireworks contained barium that has been banned by the Supreme Court. The testing of the samples also revealed that many brands did not carry the chemical composition on the labels. In many cases where the chemical composition was printed, the information was false or incomplete. Some samples did not carry the mandatory QR code that allows customers to get details about the manufacturer, chemical composition, and certification of the products.
Samples contained 'hazardous and toxic'
Many samples contained sulphur trioxide and vanadium pentoxide, numbered 587 and 669 respectively in the list of ‘hazardous and toxic’ chemicals drawn up under ‘Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules 1989’ of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Awaaz Foundation, which collected the samples from markets in Mumbai, has sent the reports of the chemical analysis to Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, asking for the government to ban the fireworks. “It is especially critical to ensure that hazardous chemicals are not released into the air we breathe and do not contribute to the adverse health effects of PM2.5 in the current time when AQI levels are higher than ever before,” said Awaaz Foundation in its November 7 letter to the chief minister. “Accordingly, we urgently request that all hazardous and polluting crackers including fake ‘green crackers’ which violate the orders of the Supreme Court be withdrawn for distribution and sale with immediate effect.”
The testing also revealed other illegalities. Fireworks marked as ‘green’ did not carry the chemical composition of contents on the label. For instance, ‘Double Dhamaka’, a cracker branded as ‘green’ did not carry a list of chemical contents on its packaging, but the testing by Awaaz revealed that the sample contained barium. The chemical can cause gastrointestinal disturbances and muscular weakness at high levels. The chemical was specifically banned by the Supreme Court of India in an order in October 2018.
What are green firecrackers?
‘Green firecrackers’ refer to specimens that have less air emissions and a lower percentage of toxic chemicals. These firecrackers were developed by a group of laboratories, including the National Chemical Laboratory, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), and the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology. The institutes transferred the manufacturing technology to firecracker manufacturers. Fireworks have to be cleared for sale by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) and to for FOR use the ‘green’ labels, brands have to be cleared by NEERI. Additionally, manufacturers, dealers, and transporters have to get clearance from the police. Police can take punitive action against violators. NEERI and PESO officials were not available for comment.
There were also doubts about the QR codes on the firecracker boxes. Though Awaaz Foundation did not check the accuracy of the QR codes this time, earlier samplings had shown that most codes were fake. In an order on October 29, the Supreme Court made a note of the sampling by Awaaz Foundation and said: “It is reported that even under the guise of ‘Green Crackers’ banned chemicals firecrackers are being sold and there is a mislabelling on the boxes and even the QR codes provided on the boxes of ‘green crackers' are alleged to be fake.”
Sumaira Abdulali of Awaaz Foundation said that the enforcement agencies have not done their job at different stages. “The situation is bad, especially because of the high pollution levels currently. This is the last thing we need,” said Abdulali.