China province expands festive firecracker ban

A girl and a woman sitting inside the car as firecrackers and fireworks explode celebrating the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year of Monkey in Beijing just before midnight, on Feb 7, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

ZHENGZHOU • The central Chinese province of Henan is widening a ban on firecrackers this Chinese New Year, in its latest efforts to combat air pollution.

The notice issued by the province's environmental protection authority over the weekend did not say whether the ban was temporary or permanent.

An existing ban on fireworks and firecrackers in cities will be expanded to all county-level towns across the province for the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations, reported state media.

With the worsening of the smog problem in recent years, Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have imposed restrictions on the long-held tradition of setting off fireworks during the festivities.

Mr Tao Ye, the director of a newly set-up environment protection office, said firecrackers produce a large number of pollutants when they are set off.

A large amount of soot is released into the environment and levels of PM2.5 - airborne particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, which are hazardous to health - can reach 500 micrograms per cubic metre instantly, he explained.

While emissions from heavy industries, coal-fired boilers, cars and the burning of biofuels are considered the main causes of rising smog in northern China, setting off firecrackers can cause pollutant density to shoot up within a short time.

Mr Tao said that last year, pollution levels were off the charts during the Chinese New Year period, and such pollution should not be allowed to happen again.

"So this year, all county governments have signed a pledge... to completely ban the selling and use of firecrackers at all times," he said.

Setting off firecrackers is a centuries-old tradition in China. The belief is that the noise will drive away evil spirits, ward off misfortune and bring good luck in the new year.

Villager Wang Xin, 36, from Henan province's Wangzhai township, said the upcoming festival would not be the same without fireworks, but the ban would be worth it if it could result in clearer skies.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline China province expands festive firecracker ban. Subscribe