Breathe easy this Fourth of July

Jul 03, 2024
| Posted in

In 2023, the Kansas City region was under an Ozone Alert during the Fourth of July holiday. That, combined with high particulate pollution levels from fireworks, made the air downtown unhealthy for several hours – especially for individuals who are sensitive to air pollution and those with chronic health conditions.

If fireworks are part of your Fourth of July tradition, MARC suggests making clean and environmentally friendly choices this year to keep our pollution levels down. “With some fireworks displays delayed due to rain this year, air pollution caused by fireworks after holiday is also a concern,” said Doug Norsby, senior environmental planner for the MARC Air Quality Program.

What makes fireworks unhealthy?

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, colors in fireworks are created from powdered metallic salts that manufacturers add to explosive fireworks shells. 

“Smoke from fireworks contains coarse and fine particles,” Norsby said. “In addition to the metallic salts, the nitrogen and sulfur used to create the color can react with oxygen to form nitric and sulfuric acid, which irritates the lungs. The smoke typically dissipates in a few hours, but individuals — even healthy adults, may find themselves wheezing. Those with heart, lung or chronic diseases — may have more severe reactions and feel lingering health effects for days after the holiday. We monitor the concentrations of fine particles during and after fireworks displays and let residents know when pollution levels become hazardous to their health.”

With cooler holiday temperatures predicted this year, leaving windows open seems like a pleasant option. But Norsby recommends closing windows since it takes time for the fine particles in the air to reach the ground. He said people with heart and breathing problems should be cautious. Consider remaining indoors during neighbors’ fireworks displays, watch large community displays from a distance – upwind when possible and leave their windows closed until the pollution levels go down. Real-time monitoring of air pollution levels in the Kansas City region is available at

Norsby suggests a few ways to stay safe and healthy this Fourth of July:

  • Watch a community fireworks show. 
    Many cities and counties host fireworks shows for everyone to enjoy. These spectacular displays feature powerful fireworks available to licensed, professional operators, and performances are designed with the enjoyment of large groups of people in mind.
  • Consider an alternative to fireworks. 
    Many communities are also now celebrating with drone displays which can be safely enjoyed without concern about air quality. Popular Science offers a few additional suggestions, from choreographed light displays, like laser shows, to party poppers, bubbles and biodegradable confetti cannons, which are environmentally friendly and safer.
  • Consider hosting a block party. If your community allows fireworks, safely shoot off fireworks with your neighbors instead of individually. By celebrating together, you and your community can reduce the number of individual fireworks displays.
  • Grill with a charcoal alternative. 
    Propane, natural gas or electric grills can cook food much faster. Gas or electric grills light more quickly, clean more easily and, most notably, are better for the air.
  • Grill with a charcoal chimney. 
    If you do fire up a charcoal grill, consider using a charcoal chimney to light the coals instead of lighter fluid. A charcoal chimney will produce fewer harmful pollutants than petroleum-based lighter fluids and — as a bonus — won’t alter the flavor of your food.
  • Delay grilling on Ozone Action Alert days. 
    An Ozone Action Alert means an unhealthy concentration of ground-level ozone is predicted in our area, which can be harmful to your health. It can cause tightness in your chest, coughing and difficulty breathing. Waiting to grill until the SkyCast is green can reduce the harmful air pollutants that form ozone on hot, still days. Check the SkyCast before you grill to see if there is an Ozone Alert.
  • Walk to a community parade. 
    For many of us, the Independence Day parade is a highlight of the holiday. Everyone enjoys a good parade complete with small treats and prizes, and civic groups turn out to offer an exciting, visual way to celebrate local history. Try walking or biking to the parade route instead of driving — you’ll avoid traffic and parking hassles while you help reduce emissions.

To learn more about what you can do to promote air quality, visit our website at