Fireworks tough on people with breathing problems


POSTED: Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's that time of year again, when those who love to light fireworks buy and use them while another group runs for relief from the smoke. It's an annual, one-night battle with many neighborhoods looking like battle zones.

We often hear from those who like fireworks: “;But it's only one night.”;

What they don't realize is that this one night compromises 175,000 children and adults in Hawaii who have lung disease; 175,000 people totals more than all those on Maui and Kauai combined. With our state population now approaching 1.3 million, 175,000 represents about 13.5 percent of us who struggle to breathe ... and one night can be deadly.

We like to think of ourselves as nice, good, people who take care of each other. Yet on New Year's Eve, this caring often gives way to entitlement. Many light fireworks with not even a passing thought about what the smoke drift may do to someone else's air quality, or even if the chemical-filled smoke might cause serious complications for someone nearby — a neighbor, a child, an elder.

But for the 175,000 kids and adults who are affected by this lack of thought, their daily fight for air will be made worse. Many will suffer in silence. Some will end up in an emergency room.

We recommend those who have breathing problems to stay indoors with the doors and windows closed. Avoid physical exertion and get plenty of rest. Use a mask designed to filter particulate matter, unless the mask makes it harder to breathe. If you take medications, keep them available and call for medical assistance if your breathing problems continue to worsen. It is important to pay attention to lung health not only on New Year's Eve but also for days afterward. Particulate pollution in the air can linger and can trigger reactions from coughing and wheezing to heart attacks.

Please, skip the fireworks this year. Instead, put the money you would have spent on fireworks toward a healthy family activity — or create a learning experience for the children in your life and donate your fireworks dollars to your favorite nonprofit.

And let's consider passing stricter regulations on fireworks use. Many more will breathe easier.


Jean Evans, MPH, is executive director of the American Lung Association in Hawaii.