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LA's Air Has A Fourth Of July Hangover — But Not As Bad As Last Year

A colorful fountain of fireworks spew sparks and smoke on a street in Huntington Beach while several people watch.
Fireworks in a Huntington Beach neighborhood on July 4, 2021.
(Jill Replogle
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For the folks in charge of monitoring the quality of the air we breathe, Independence Day has a dubious honor.

"The evening of the fourth, and the morning of the fifth of July is consistently our worst air quality in the whole year," said Jo Kay Ghosh, health effects officer for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Fireworks release tiny particles into the air that can cause short- and long-term health problems, especially for children, seniors and people with respiratory diseases.

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UC Irvine researchers recently found that air pollution spiked five to 10 times above normal during last year's 4th of July celebrations in L.A., and three times above normal in Orange County.

They also found that fireworks-related pollution was worse in neighborhoods that are already among the most vulnerable to air pollution.

Last year's fireworks-related pollution was so bad in L.A., Ghosh said, because of a combination of stagnant air conditions and increased numbers of Angelenos who, stuck in pandemic lockdown with official events canceled, set off their own fireworks.

These "personal" fireworks tend to explode closer to the ground, Ghosh said, and "that pollution tends to stay a little bit closer to the ground, as well."

Compared to last year, Ghosh said this year "we definitely saw some improvements, particularly in the coastal areas and the downtown L.A. area," although inland and valley areas are worse.

The good news, said Ghosh, is that fireworks-related air pollution is temporary — it tends to clear up on July 5.

The bad news: "We are also in the middle of summer smog season," she added. "So while your firework impacts are going to decrease over the course of the day, your ozone levels start to rise in the afternoon."

Ghosh urged people to check out their local air quality and, if it's deemed unhealthy or worse, to limit outdoor activity.