Marcellus Shale

Freedom, Fireworks…And Naturally Occurring Elements?

My favorite part of the Fourth of July festivities is definitely the fireworks extravaganzas. Growing up, my family would go down to Wegman’s parking lot for the annual “Set the Night to Music” display in Williamsport, and to this day when I hear the song “Proud to Be An American,” I get excited thinking of the grand finale.

What I never thought about while I was “oohing” and “awing” was how they make such amazing, vibrant colors-at least not until the other day when someone sent me the recipe. Making the color actually involves using two materials we hear about quite frequently in the discussion of natural gas: barium and strontium – two of the same elements listed on the infamous short-lived billboard placed in Dimock and wrongly suggested as being somehow being attributable to shale gas exploration.

Barium and strontium are often mentioned when talking about water quality in Pennsylvania, as these two naturally occurring elements have led to false accusations of contamination by natural gas companies. They can be found in water wells throughout Pennsylvania, and coincidentally, are an intricate part of the firework displays most of us will be enjoying this week. In the spirit of the holiday, here’s some information to add a little education to your Independence Day fun.

Firework display in the Gulf of Mexico:

This video from NOVA gives a history of how fireworks get their colors, including the bright, vibrant reds created by using strontium.

Here’s a chart illustrating some of the ways different colors are created for our viewing pleasure (emphasis added).

Colour Compound Wavelength of Light
Red Strontium Salts & Lithium Salts
Orange Calcium Salts
Gold Incandescence of Iron or Charcoal 590nm
Yellow Sodium Compounds
Electric White White Hot Metal
Green Barium compounds with Chlorine
Blue Copper Compounds and Chlorine
Purple Mixture of Strontium (red) and Copper (blue) compounds 432-456nm
Silver Burning aluminium, titanium or magnesium powder. 412nm

Chart Source:

Visit this site (image below) to go through all the parts that make up a firework. Be sure to check out the part about “stars” where the reactions occur to create the colors we love to see in a display.

I also came across this interactive Periodic Table of Elements which allows you to scroll over different elements commonly used in pyrotechnic displays.

I hope you all have a great Independence Day complete with friends and family, great food, and a beautiful fireworks display thanks, in part, to those naturally occurring elements!  Happy Fourth of July!

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

No Comments

Post A Comment