What do aluminum, barium, magnesium, potassium, strontium, antimony, copper, zinc, and gold have in common?
They are all mined elements that are used to make firecrackers, sparklers, and fireworks.
When it comes to fireworks, mined minerals are a key component in their beauty and booms.
- Aluminum, which is used extensively in aircraft, automobiles, and appliances to make them lighter, is used in fireworks to produce bright flashes and loud bangs. Bauxite is the primary source of aluminum (Al) ore. The USGS National Minerals Information Center notes that “Bauxite is a naturally occurring, heterogeneous material composed primarily of one or more aluminum hydroxide minerals, plus various mixtures of silica, iron oxide, titania, aluminosilicate, and other impurities in minor or trace amounts.”
- Copper, which has been key in the modern age, is being used extensively in energy-efficient products. And it’s also the element that makes the blue color in fireworks. The USGS notes that “Pure copper metal is generally produced from a multistage process, beginning with the mining and concentrating of low-grade ores containing copper sulfide minerals, and followed by smelting and electrolytic refining to produce a pure copper cathode.”
- From the Greek phrase “a metal not found alone,” antimony is a silvery, lustrous grey semi-metallic toxic element used to create firework glitter effects. The USGS estimates that there is an abundance of antimony in the Earth’s crust ranging from 0.2 to 0.5 parts per million. Antimony is chalcophile, occurring with sulfur and the heavy metals, lead, copper, and silver. Over a hundred minerals of antimony are found in nature.
- Strontium gives red fireworks their deep hue. Strontium commonly occurs in nature, averaging 0.034% of all igneous rock, according to the USGS; only two minerals, celestite (strontium sulfate) and strontianite (strontium carbonate), however, contain strontium in sufficient quantities to make its recovery practical.
- Gold sparks are produced by iron filings and small pieces of charcoal. The USGS explains that iron ore is a mineral substance which, when heated in the presence of a reductant, will yield metallic iron (Fe). It almost always consists of iron oxides, the primary forms of which are magnetite (Fe3O4) and hematite (Fe2O3).
Take a look at this infographic to find out 9 Fast Facts About Fireworks and the minerals used to make them look spectacular! (And here’s some info about technology used in minerals mining and processing, exploration, and bulk material handling.)
The Wedding Day Sparklers website also does a great job of outlining the different metals used to change the flame colors of a sparkler. They explain that “to create color in a burning object, typically a metallic powder is used. For instance, aluminum powder will create a silver-white color during the performance. By adding more iron, you can expect reddish tints to come through. So, to create the color aspect, they simply add a specific blend of metal powder to the regular slurry found on all variations.”
The Economic Times identified four basic ingredients in firecrackers: aluminum, sulphur, barium and potassium, and, like the other items, there are added metals for different colors.
Another thing that these elements have in common is that when they are used in explosive materials, like firecrackers, sparklers and fireworks, caution must be taken. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that fireworks were involved in an estimated 15,600 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments during calendar year 2020. There were an estimated 1,600 emergency department-treated injuries associated with firecrackers and 900 with sparklers. Follow these safety tips to help avoid injury:
- Fireworks safety tips from the CPSC
- Sparkler safety tips from the American Pyrotechnics Association
- Firecracker safety tips from a manufacturer
Just like consumers need to follow safety tips for handling these explosive items, miners need to follow safety measures when mining those minerals, especially when it comes to air quality. Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems (CEMS) help mining operations monitor toxic gases and comply with environmental standards. Personal dust monitors are the first line of defense in preventing devastating long-term health effects such as Black Lung Disease, and help.ensure the shift-average respirable dust exposure does not exceed regulatory limits.
Those colorful fireworks might take your breath away, but mining of the minerals to make them shouldn’t jeopardize your breathing.