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China Focus: Festive traditions disrupt green efforts


09:19, February 19, 2013

BEIJING, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) -- Letting off firecrackers and fireworks with his son and grandson has been the best part of this year's Spring Festival, also known as the Lunar New Year, for 75-year-old Li Dongsheng in north China's Shanxi Province.

Since the Lunar New Year's Eve that fell on Feb. 9, Li's family has spent around 800 yuan (128.4 U.S. dollars) on firecrackers and fireworks.

"Fireworks crackle and bloom, lighting up the night sky. There is no better way to tell the coming of a new year," said Li from the provincial capital of Taiyuan. "It is also a common memory shared by generations."

In China, the festival is traditionally celebrated with large amounts of fireworks, as folk custom dictates that the loud noise and fire they create can ward off evil spirits.

But with tradition has come the deterioration of air quality.

According to the Taiyuan municipal environmental protection bureau, the city saw "serious" or "grave" air pollution for six days during the holiday, which lasted from Feb. 9 to 15.

During the week-long holiday, skyrocketing readings of PM2.5, fine particulate matter that is 2.5 microns or less in diameter, were reported in many Chinese cities.

PM2.5 readings were excessive in 74 cities for about half of the holiday period, according to Ministry of Environmental Protection figures released Sunday.

In these cities, the highest average PM2.5 reading in a single day was 426 micrograms per cubic meter, or 5.7 times the country's standard of 75 micrograms, the figures showed.

The ministry blamed fireworks and unfavorable weather conditions for the worsened air quality.

This is a little bit discouraging for a nationwide campaign that started early in 2013 advocating "a greener Spring Festival with fewer firecrackers."

Initiatives to curb fireworks were rolled out in a number of cities.

During the holiday, the Beijing municipal government sent the city's residents text messages reminding them to set off fewer fireworks. It also issued a "fireworks index" that indicated whether outdoor conditions were suitable.

Cities including Haikou, Luoyang and Zhengzhou have decided to cancel their routine fireworks shows on the Lantern Festival that falls on Feb. 24, which traditionally marks the end of the Spring Festival.

However, for many people, the Spring Festival is not the the best time to go green.

"Fireworks add to the appeal of the festival and entertain children in particular," said 65-year-old Shen Yongqiang from the village of Liuyuan in eastern Jiangxi Province. "The biggest occasion for Chinese people would be dull without them."

He already has more fireworks and firecrackers ready for the Lantern Festival. "It just feels right that the festival ends in a bustling manner," Shen said.

It is in accordance with festive traditions that the government allows setting off of fireworks, said Wang Gengchen, a researcher with the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

But a provisional ban on fireworks can be used as part of a contingency plan and compulsory measures should be adopted when there is seriously polluted weather, he added.

Xiao Yu, a researcher with the IAP of the CAS, suggested extensively using "small-sized and environment-friendly fireworks, which do not consist of heavy metal and sulfur in their formula."

Fireworks with all its combustibles made of organic matter produce less sulfur dioxide and inhalable particles, Xiao said.

"In this way, traditions can be preserved without causing much damage to the environment," he said.

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