On February 1 last year, a truck carrying Chinese fireworks exploded on a bridge in Sanmanxia city, Henan province. The blast was powerful enough to destroy an 80-metre section of the bridge, thereby killing six and injuring 11. Ominously, these firecrackers are now landing in mind-boggling quantities on Indian shores, despite being banned for several decades in the country.
Less than two weeks ago, on September 15, `3.6 crore worth of Chinese firecrackers were seized just before they were distributed to dealers in the Mumbai market. But that seizure was only the tip of the iceberg. Firecrackers several times this quantity have already swamped the market, according to industry sources.
But while the influx of Chinese crackers has been highlighted by several organisations, what has not been underscored enough is their potential lethality. Chinese fireworks are not allowed in the country for one major reason — they use a compound called Potassium Chlorate as part of their composition. And gram per gram, compounds using Potassium Chlorate are six times more explosive than what Indian fireworks manufacturers use, say chemistry experts. “Potassium Chlorate and Perchlorate are more powerful than nitrates,” points out Dr P Kannan, Head of the Department of Chemistry, Anna University. Other experts concur. According to them, Chlorates are highly dangerous because they are both impact and friction sensitive. They are also several times unstable than the Sulphur and Potassium Nitrate mixture that a majority of Indian manufacturers use.
“This means that accidents can happen at a drop of the hat. Or in this case, a firecracker. The climate in India is much hotter than in China and the likelihood for serious accidents is several fold more,” says K Mariappan, a fireworks manufacturer, past vice president and current member of the Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TANFAMA).
Accidents involving Potassium Chlorate mixtures are not new to India. Many small manufacturers use the illegal compound in their mixtures and several fireworks accidents on the manufacturing end have occurred in the country, according to TANFAMA.
For instance, the compound was categorically stated to be the reason behind an accident that killed seven workers in Thrissur in 2006. According to several probes by government authorities, the accident was caused because of the use of Potassium Chlorate.
“The dangerous thing is that these crackers are now reaching consumers more and more. And they buy them because Chinese firecrackers are several times cheaper than Indian ones,” observes Mariappan.
As a distributor and dealer at Broadway in Chennai attests, Chinese firecrackers have been selling quite well for the past two years. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he says, “They enable us to make almost three times more profit than the local ones. Customers also like them.”
But why are these firecrackers cheaper? Because Potassium Chlorate is also three times cheaper than Potassium Nitrate, which is usually used. “And add the cost of Aluminum powder that Indian fireworks use and Chinese don’t, there is no way that Indian fireworks can compete with the cost of Chinese ones,” admits Mariappan.
So when you go shopping for firecrackers this Diwali season, make sure you check the cover for the ‘Made in India’ sign. Because while the Chinese kind is easier on your wallet, they could also bring a more dangerous brand of Diwali — Made in China.