Air quality shows all popped at the same time

Air quality around the hour leading into New Year’s Day at the Kihei monitoring station was poorer than last year but still well below the national standard, according to a state Department of Health report.

Anecdotally, a fire official called the New Year’s Day hour “crazy” and noted that a Kahului cottage was gutted by a fire that may have been started by fireworks. The Mayor’s Office said it had received only one complaint about fireworks this holiday season, a Facebook post that asked if anything could be done about “the explosions” in Kahului.

Fireworks smoke consists primarily of fine particulate matter, which can penetrate the lungs and aggravate existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the Health Department said. The national standard for allowable particulate substances of this type is 35 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over 24 hours.

The Health Department monitoring station in Kihei at Hale Piilani Park averaged 14 micrograms on Dec. 31 and 12 micrograms on Jan. 1. Those totals were nearly double the air measurements from the previous year, 7 micrograms on Dec. 31 and 6 micrograms on Jan. 1.

Although the hourly data is averaged over a 24-hour period, the Kihei station shot off the charts at 11 p.m. New Year’s Eve – with 149 micrograms. By midnight, the station was back down to 17 micrograms.

“It looks like everyone popped at the same time,” said Lisa Young of the Health Department’s Clean Air Branch.

The usual pattern is a gradual increase, especially when the fireworks and firecrackers can be set off legally, and then a decline, she said. Fireworks and firecrackers could be set off legally from 9 p.m. New Year’s Eve to 1 a.m. New Year’s Day in Maui County.

“Usually, it doesn’t jump like this,” she said.

Young added that factors such as wind conditions and geography could affect air quality readings and that the 24-hour average is the one that counts.

Fire Department calls New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day do not shed any light on the spike in readings. From about 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., there were nine fire calls – three in Lahaina, one in Kahului, one in Wailuku, one in Waihee, one in Kula, one in Kaanapali and one in Makawao, fire officials said.

Nothing jumps out in South Maui at 11 p.m., said Val Martin, temporary assistant chief of operations, although he did say that there was so much fireworks activity at that time that people may figure that there was no sense calling 911.

Martin said that New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were “crazy” and that there appears to be evidence that a fire that displaced a family in Kahului was started by fireworks.

“So unfortunate and needless,” he said.

There were a lot of colorful aerial fireworks shot into the night sky in Central Maui just before midnight on New Year’s Eve. They are illegal, Martin said, noting that anything flying more than 6 feet high is considered aerial fireworks.

Fire Chief Jeff Murray “is totally against any type of fireworks” as are fire safety organizations across the country, he said. It’s a matter of safety. With Oahu’s ban on certain types of fireworks this year, Martin said injuries were down.

Air quality improved on Oahu with the ban as well. The highest reading was in Pearl City at 15 micrograms; the area recorded a high of 36 micrograms last year during the New Year’s holiday.

Lorraine Leslie, Hawaii director of the American Lung Association, did not have an explanation for the spike at 11 p.m. in Kihei. She did offer some general information about fireworks.

* Fireworks that combust near ground level can have short-term, limited impacts on air quality and should be used with care near sensitive groups such as children, the elderly or people with asthma or respiratory disease.

* The smoke from fireworks displays generally dissipates within a few hours, but individuals with asthma or other respiratory conditions may be impacted during that time.

* Particle pollution is made up of microscopic specks of soot, metals, acids and aerosols that are tiny enough to inhale and lodge deep in the lungs, where they can do serious damage.

* Lee Imada can be reached at