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DUH watchdog wants to curb New Year fireworks

December 21, 2018

Taming firework pollution at New Year is the latest campaign of a German environmental group already pursuing diesel carmakers. DUH says six cities are exemplary in banning "archaic" pyrotechnics from city centers.

Cologne on New Year's Eve
Cologne on New Year's Eve Image: picture-alliance/imagebroker/W.G. Allgöwer

For most of the year in Germany, fireworks are not publicly available and are only supposed to be used with a license.

But on the last three working days of each year, shop shelves bulge with various rockets, Catherine wheels and Roman candles — ready for a mass amnesty on New Year's Eve.

Most of these firework displays are of an informal nature and are impromptu events.

They typically involve people rushing onto the street outside their homes or the bars they were frequenting around midnight, and letting fly. 

However, the state-funded environmental watchdog Environment Action Germany (DUH) is calling on cities to consider banning members of the public from setting off their pyrotechnics in areas struggling to meet air quality guidelines.

Stuttgart fireworks in 2014
Stuttgart fireworks in 2014Image: picture-alliance/dpa

An end to archaic crackers

The DUH also called for an outright ban on "archaic" fireworks and crackers using black powder (gunpowder), rather than a cleaner substitute.

Professionals using cleaner launch systems should stage proper firework displays "which everybody can enjoy" outside the city centers, said DUH executive Jürgen Resch.

DUH is best known for leading the charge in Germany to improve air quality standards from particulates like nitrous oxides

It launched a string of contentious lawsuits seeking restrictions or bans on cars — especially with diesel engines — on German roads. 

DUH alluded to this in its appeal on fireworks. The lobby group said that on New Year's Eve alone, 5,000 tons of particulate matter was blasted into Germany's atmosphere.

According to DUH, that equates to 17 percent of the total particulate emissions from traffic in a year.

Read more: Diesel vehicle ban along key autobahn

Fireworks in Berlin
Fireworks in BerlinImage: picture alliance/blickwinkel

Concentration levels

Depending on the weather, fine particulate concentration levels would soar far higher than the threshold permitted of 50 micrograms per cubic meter that can only be breached on 35 days per year.

Over New Year last year, Germany's federal environment agency had measured more than 1,800 micrograms shortly after midnight in Leipzig in the eastern state of Saxony.

In Munich and other cities, samples taken each hour on New Year's Eve typcially exceeded 1,000 micrograms — readings that were harmful to people with asthma, other breathing ailments, pregnant women and children, said the DUH.

Some cities have acted

The lobby group in Friday's statement went on to reel off other drawbacks of "archaic" cracker and fireworks rockets:

  • property fires ignited by errant projectiles
  • personal injuries
  • tens of thousands of used fireworks left where they land on the streets.

Constance, Goslar, Bielefeld, Straubing, Ravensburg and most recently, Hanover have removed traditional fireworks from their inner city areas, the DUH said.

Other regional authorities had applied firework restrictions for nature conservancy areas.

ipj/msh (dpa, AFP)

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