London’s new year fireworks left sky full of metal particles

Lack of wind not only obscured view but created the capital’s first air pollution incident of 2020

Lack of wind slowed the dispersion of firework smoke throughout London on New Year’s Eve.

Around the world, capital cities celebrated the new year and new decade with fireworks. Many people were disappointed with London’s show, as smoke obscured the views amid still air. Lack of wind also slowed the dispersion of firework smoke throughout London, creating the year’s first air pollution incident in the capital. It was also the first such incident to be recorded on any New Year’s Day in London since the start of modern measurements of particle pollution in 1993.

For four hours, the air was filled with tiny particles of the metals that are used to make firework colours. These included barium, copper and strontium that produce white, green, blue and red colours, along with potassium and chloride that are used as firework propellants. Air pollution from northern France also reached the city later in the day.

In 2019 over 300,000 people signed a UK petition to ban the sale of fireworks to the public. New Year’s Day fireworks in Sydney divided public opinion at a time when firefighters were tackling still-burning deadly bushfires and people were losing their homes.

Although pre-recorded a few days before, Shanghai’s new year display, with lit drones creating shapes in the sky, may be a more environmentally-friendly, but still spectacular, way to start future new years.

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