Background
of Fireworks

A firework is a kind of device that produces a visual and auditory
effect. The earliest versions of fireworks were tubes made from paper and
bamboo, and they were filled with finely ground charcoal and sulfur. These
types of fireworks were used in China almost two thousand years ago. The tubes
produced a flash of fire and smoke when ignited, but created no explosion.
Fireworks that created an explosion couldn’t be created until saltpeter mixed
with sulfur and charcoal. Most evidence says that black powder was first made
in China, but some evidence suggests it was invented by the Arabs.  The Chinese mainly used black powder to
create bombs, rockets, and fire-work signals. Black powder was introduced to
Europe in the 14th century. It was used as an explosive for both
fireworks and guns. Black powder was used as gunpowder up until the late 19th
century when it was replaced by nitrocellulose, but it is still used in
fireworks today. The fireworks in China evolved from simple firecrackers to
magnificent displays witnessed by European explorers in the 16th
century. Fireworks in Europe began as military explosives but were adapted for
the use for celebrating victories and eventually became elaborate displays
designed by Italian pyrotechnics I the 16th century. Although the
firework displays by the Italians were complex and impressive, the technology
of the time limited their colour and brightness, but the introduction of
aluminum and magnesium greatly increased their brightness. While the
development of potassium chlorate made it possible to produce more intense
colours. Fireworks became bigger, more powerful, and more dangerous during the
20th century. There have been more than 4,000 deaths caused by
fireworks between 1900 and 1930. The Federal and State Governments began
regulating the use of fireworks in the 1930s. Fireworks such as silver salutes
and cherry bombs are banned from all states, but continue to be sold illegally.
While the private use of fireworks is super restricted, while public displays
have become more elaborate. 

Making of Fireworks

There are several forms of fireworks that have different building
processes. The first type of fireworks is sparklers. Sparklers produce bright
and showery light that lasts up to a minute. Sparklers are made from several
components including a fuel, an oxidizer, iron or steel powder, and a binder.
The fuel used is black powder and the binder is made with either starch or
sugar. When the binder and fuel are mixed with water, they create a slurry that
can be coated on a wire. Once it dries, you have a sparkler! Aerial fireworks
are quite a bit different since they are usually formed as a shell. A shell
typically has four parts, the container, stars, bursting charge, and a fuse.
The container is usually made from pasted paper, and stars are a sparkler like
product in the shape and size of a pea. A bursting charge is a fire-cracker
like-charge at the center of the shell. The container is filled with stars and
black powder, then it’s launched into the air via a short steel pipe called a
mortar! 

Chemicals in Fireworks

We’ve already
discussed some of the chemicals used in fireworks, like charcoal, Sulphur, and
saltpeter. Only those chemicals are mainly used in the building process, we
haven’t talked about the elements that create the brilliant colours that are
created by fireworks. There are two main mechanisms of colour production in
fireworks, incandescence, and luminescence. Incandescence light is produced
from heat. Heat causes a substance to become hot and glow, initially emitting
infrared, then red, orange, yellow, and white light as it becomes increasingly
hotter. Luminescence light is produced using energy sources other than heat.
Luminescence light is sometimes called cold light because it can occur at room
temperature and cooler temperatures. To produce luminescence light, an electron
of an atom absorbs energy, causing it to become excited, but unstable. The heat
from the firework provides the energy required. When the electron returns to a
lower energy level, the energy is released in the form of a photon. The energy
of the photon determines its wavelength and colour. There are quite a few
compounds that can make the distinct colours. The compounds that make a red
colour are strontium salts and lithium salts. Calcium salts and calcium
chloride make an orange colour. An `incandescence of iron will make a gold
colour. Sodium compounds will produce a yellow colour. White-hot metals such as
magnesium and aluminum will create a white colour.

Barium
chloride will produce a green colour. Copper compounds plus a chlorine producer
will make blue. And finally, to produce purple, a mixture of strontium and
copper compounds.  

Environmental Damage with the Use of Fireworks

Fireworks might
be pretty to look at but when fireworks are shot off and exploded, they release
toxins into the air, and leaves deposits on soil, crops, and water. For
example, copper burns blue but releases dioxins, which can cause cancer. Also,
black powder alone leaves behind potassium carbonate, potassium sulfate and
sulfide, plus unreacted sulfur and levels of fine particles that cause asthma,
cancer, and other respiratory problems.  A
2002 article estimated that U.S. firework show may have generate 90 tons air
born lead pollution. According to a National Fire Protection Association report,
fireworks cause an average of 18,500 fires per year.

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