To German authorities, the pollution levels have become so hazardous that doctors are recommending the use of masks that are more commonly seen in China and other Asian countries where heavy pollution is prevalent. “Breathing in fine particles endangers people's health, with repercussions ranging from temporary impairments of the bronchial system over an increased need for drugs among asthmatics to severe respiratory or cardiovascular diseases,” Germany's environmental agency wrote in a statement.
A recent report by Germany's environmental agency found an almost identical threat across many of the nation's major cities — especially in centers or areas with lots of traffic — and the report's findings indicate that other European and U.S. cities are likely facing similar challenges on New Year's Eve or July 4.
A visualization of the researchers' findings from New Year's Eve 2012 shows how rapidly pollution spiked around midnight.
The possibility of long-term health implications of New Year's Eve fireworks is difficult to predict, however. “Strong winds help to quickly disperse the pollutants. If there's a lack of wind with a limited horizontal air circulation, the pollutants remain in the air for many hours,” the researchers assessed.
Hence, pollution levels differ strongly between years.
Several Western cities have already banned New Year's Eve fireworks in recent years, including New York, mostly due to pollution and public safety concerns.
Similar precautions are being taken in various places in Asia. In China — where fireworks were invented — their use will be prohibited in central Beijing this year. The Chinese ban comes after a Supreme Court decision in India this year, where the sale of fireworks was also banned ahead of this October's Hindu festival of lights, Diwali.
The Indian ruling was part of an effort to prevent a repeat of 2016's post-Diwali toxic smog that plunged New Delhi into an air pollution nightmare. As a result, authorities there had to shut down power plants and close high schools for half a week.
Similar scenarios remain unlikely in major European cities, even though pollution levels there resemble those of toxic-smog-affected Asian capitals for several hours at least once each year.