NGO Awaaz Foundation conducted chemical tests on firecrackers available in local markets on November 3. The results revealed that many of the so-called ‘green crackers’ contained banned chemical contents. Out of the 22 types of firecrackers tested, 14 were found to contain barium oxide (BaO), a hazardous substance banned by the Supreme Court in 2018. Most of the tested crackers also contained other chemicals listed as hazardous in Schedule-I, the ‘List of Hazardous and Toxic Chemicals’ under the ‘Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules 1989’ under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Sumaira Abdulali, the convenor of NGO Awaaz Foundation, has written to the Maharashtra government and Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, urging them to address the serious hazard to human health indicated by the test results. She said, “Most of the tested crackers are labelled as ‘green crackers.’ However, on testing, we found several of them contained barium, a chemical banned by the Supreme Court of India in an order dated October 23, 2018. Most of the crackers also contained other chemicals listed as hazardous under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.”

Sumaira Abdulali, convenor of NGO Awaaz Foundation

She further pointed out, “There is a blanket ban on firecrackers containing barium; however, we found that almost all the manufacturers of firecrackers that we found barium in have been selling it without mentioning it on the packages. The contents can only be verified through chemical analysis.” The alternative to regular firecrackers available in the market is ‘green crackers,’ which are reduced-emissions crackers developed by NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute). They are legally allowed to be sold in the market, provided they exclude banned chemicals during production.

“‘Green crackers’ are required to contain QR codes, which identify them as less polluting and free from banned chemicals. In 2018, the Awaaz Foundation found that many boxes did not bear QR codes at all. We then downloaded a free app developed by NEERI, the same agency that also developed ‘green crackers.’ We found every single QR code on such boxes to be fake. In 2021, the Supreme Court expressed serious concern about the effect of hazardous chemicals on people’s health and reiterated the ban on barium,” she added.

In 2022, out of the 18 samples of various firecrackers tested, 13 were found to contain barium. File Pic/Ashish Raje

In her letter to the Chief Minister, Abdulali stated, “In the years 2018, 2020, 2021, and 2022, Awaaz Foundation conducted tests to determine the composition of the increased PM2.5 levels of air pollution generated by firecrackers. All these prior tests showed that these ‘green crackers’ contained banned chemicals. It is especially critical to ensure that hazardous chemicals are not released into the air we breathe and do not contribute to the adverse health effects of PM2.5, especially when AQI levels are higher than ever before. We urgently request that all hazardous and polluting crackers, including fake ‘green crackers’ that violate the Supreme Court’s orders, be withdrawn from distribution and sale with immediate effect.”

Despite repeated appeals to the government, police, and local civic bodies regarding hazardous chemicals found in firecrackers each year, no action has been taken on the matter. In 2022, out of the 18 samples of various firecrackers tested, 13 were found to contain barium. Abdulali submitted her cracker testing report one day after the Bombay High Court directed that firecrackers can be burst only between 7 pm and 10 pm during Diwali, due to the heavy air pollution and poor AQI in the city.

Year barium was banned by SC

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