News’ Erin Santillo reports a new research collaboration between UoB and the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi
Remember, remember the… danger of extra particulate matter loading? Now, that may not be the common idiom, but recent UoB research into the connection between the use of fireworks and air quality has highlighted how visibility can be significantly reduced around this time of year, mainly due to events such as Guy Fawkes Night and Diwali.
This is just one example of environmental health research projects that take place globally every day. However, this particular study has led to an international collaboration between UoB and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in New Delhi that aims to investigate the levels of air pollution in the two countries, whilst comparing the sources and effects.
The research will be led by Birmingham’s Dr Francis Pope and Professor Mukesh Khare from IIT’s Department of Civil Engineering, who are planning to organise a workshop in the Indian capital during the month of December. Professor Khare, who specialises in air quality modelling, has previously collaborated with UoB’s Professor Roy Harrison OBE in 2013, when they studied air-polluting dust. Nevertheless, December’s project, which has been funded by the British Council, will strive to build on Dr Pope’s research into the effects of fireworks displays on local air quality, which was published in 2015.
The report, for which Dr Pope was the lead author, found that, on average, visibility dropped by 25% in the areas close to fireworks and bonfires. However, if conditions were unfavourable then the reduction could be more significant; one statistic indicating that visibility had previously fallen by 64% in Nottingham.
From a scientific angle, this phenomenon is caused by the particulate matter that is scattered with the use of bonfires and air-detonating fireworks. This substance is hygroscopic, meaning that its water content is dependent on the local relative humidity. Therefore, during humid nights, the shape and composition of the particles change, which results in them having the ability to scatter light more effectively and hence a ‘statistically significant reduction’ in visibility is noted in Dr Pope’s 2015 article, ‘Remember, remember the 5th of November; gunpowder, particles and smog’.
The project used data collected from 34 UK-based meteorological stations between 2000 and 2012 inclusive, and the new venture in December will allow this study to broaden its scope by using international data analysed at IIT. Dr Pope, who lectures for the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, stated that his research into fireworks events will be crucial to the Delhi workshop in December, where he aims ‘to better understand (sic) the causes, sources and effects of pollution in India and the UK and how they differ between the two countries’.
Clearly, visibility reduction, which is usually centred around urban areas, raises concerns regarding vehicular and pedestrian safety during the two days after any fireworks event, which is the time required for the effects of the extra particulate matter loading in the atmosphere to subside. For this reason, scientists hope that their findings will inspire policy changes regarding the organisation of festivals such as Guy Fawkes Night and Diwali, for which they suggest that local authorities should ‘be prepared to issue poor visibility warnings in advance’.
This evokes poignant memories of the 2011 M5 motorway crash, for which a local fireworks display near Taunton in Somerset was deemed a ‘contributory factor’ for the sudden lack of visibility on the road. The disaster, which resulted in seven deaths and fifty-one injuries, highlights the importance of research into the area of air quality, and so Dr Pope hopes that his 2015 report and the upcoming collaboration with IIT’s Professor Khare will spark the introduction of ‘precautionary measure[s]’ in order ‘to prevent unnecessary accidents’ in the future.