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Lack of high-flying community fireworks may spare region’s air quality on July 4

Fireworks at Gas Works Park in Seattle on July 4, 2013.
Wikimedia Commons
Fireworks at Gas Works Park in Seattle on July 4, 2013.

July 4 is upon us. Normally, that means our air quality takes a big hit. It's an issue that KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass often talks about. Mass has studied the impact of fireworks on our air quality. This year, things will be a little different. With all the major community fireworks displays canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a typical year, particles small enough to go deep into your lungs spike significantly on Independence Day, Mass says. “And so we get into an extremely unhealthy air quality situation,” he said.

This year, there won’t be any community fireworks hows, but people will still set off personal fireworks. Mass says this creates the opportunity for a “big experiment.”

“We will be able to see the air quality impacts of the personal fireworks that people are shooting off all around the region,” he said.

The high-flying rockets used in massive fireworks shows create giant plumes higher in the atmosphere than personal fireworks used by individuals, Mass noted. So it will offer a glimpse into which type degrade air quality the most.

“I will be watching,” Mass said. “And members of the air quality community will be watching how the pollution changes this year.”

Listen to the full conversation above. 

The weekly KNKX feature "Weather with Cliff Mass" airs every Friday at 9 a.m. immediately following BirdNote, and repeats twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KNKX’s Environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator.  You can also subscribe to a podcast of “Weather with Cliff Mass” shows on AppleSpotify and Google.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to