Thursday, July 31, 2008

Newsflash: Beihai Port

This morning Beihai port informed all logistics companies that effective today, all transportation of fireworks including on roads and by sea must be stopped. This includes loading of containers onto feeder vessels. There was no announcement when transport can resume.

This morning the Work Safety in Guangxi also informed all factories that they are not allowed to start production until further notice. Again, there was no indication when they could re-start.

This could be due the Olympics but most likely it is due to a firework accident this week in a Hepu factory that resulted in two fatalities.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chinese fireworks cheaper but inferior

Article from Vancouver Sun
Tim Lai, Vancouver Sun
Published: Wednesday, July 30, 2008

VANCOUVER - The term "Made in China" seems to have been tailor-made for the fireworks business. Up to 80 per cent of the world's fireworks -- like so many other goods -- are manufactured in China, the juggernaut of the global fireworks industry.
So it was no surprise when the dozens of boxes unloaded onto the HSBC Celebration of Light fireworks barge in English Bay for tonight's China production -- Power of the Dream -- all had the familiar "Made in China" sticker plastered on them.

But like so many other goods, China's fireworks don't necessarily rate a gold medal for quality. "Chinese fireworks have improved significantly. There's a lot of good and bad in Chinese fireworks," said Wilson Mao, designer of China's Olympic-themed performance. Others in the industry point to Europe as the standard. "You get more even colour" from European fireworks, said Bill Raynault, president of the Canadian Firework Association. "Let's say you have red, green and blue up in the air," Raynault said.

"For the Chinese one, you'll see the red outshine all the others. The blue will be very washed out. In a Spanish or Italian product, they'll be even brightness throughout; it's very well defined. "All the products from Spain and Italy are predictable," Raynault said. "They're manufactured using more TLC."

Nova Scotia-based Fred Wade, secretary-general of the International Symposium on Fireworks, said: "Chemicals used in Italy and Spain are of higher grade, giving you more intense colourization and less smoke. They are the ones with the colours and intensity, the larger stars and special effects that will produce the 'wow' appeal in the audience."

Quality comes at a premium. Raynault and Wade agreed no one can compete with Chinese prices. The Canadian Fireworks Association says Canadians imported $9.5 million worth of pyrotechnic materials from China, more than half of all money spent on fireworks in 2006. The Americans were a distant second in Canadian sales, with $2.5 million.

In the U.S., the American Pyrotechnics Association says about 80 per cent of fireworks come from China. About 10 per cent are manufactured domestically and the rest come from Europe and Japan. Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, said the days of cheap Chinese fireworks may be on the wane. With safety regulations improving and growing energy costs, she said the price of Chinese fireworks may increase by 35 per cent. But that would still leave them considerably cheaper than the alternatives.

Heckman said 2008 has been a bad year: shortages and transportation delays meant about 15 per cent of fireworks ordered from China for Fourth of July celebrations did not to make it to U.S. shores. The backlog, related to the Beijing Summer Olympics and a series of warehouse explosions in China, came close to delaying the arrival of containers for tonight's performance beyond the time needed to set up the show.

Raynault said producers in Canada may soon look to Mexico as an alternative. But Heckman was skeptical. "The product in Mexico needs to improve substantially. I'm not sure the chemical formulations meet our restrictions in the U.S.," she said.

Fireworks & Olympics Update

It was announced a few days ago that Beihai will not permit transportation of fireworks on 30th and 31st July due to an economic meeting in the area. Production of fireworks in Beihai will be stopped from 7th August to 11th August. Transportation of fireworks into Beihai from other provinces will not be allowed from 7th August until 16th August. As the only port now accepting fireworks out of China, there could be a major slowdown or stoppage of fireworks shipment from now until after 16th August. Unfortunately, there was an accident in a fireworks factory in Hepu, Beihai Guangxi yesterday morning, and all factories in the province were ordered to stop work immediately.

Jiangxi has informed verbally all factories that they will not be allowed to manufacture n August, but this has not been documented. Hunan has yet to announce whether they will stop fireworks production next month. As the Olympics opening ceremony is drawing closing (8th August), it is very likely that the Hunan government will stop fireworks production for at least several days.

Shipping from Beihai remains difficult, with terminal, feeder and operation costs skyrocketing for the past month or so. Shanghai is scheduled to reopen its port for first shipment around 10th September. Although this is good news, there will be new inspection requirements for every container to be certified by local CIQ before it can be transported to Shanghai for export. At present, it is still not clear how this will be done, as CIQ will need to increase its workforce to handle the work load. Containers must be loaded in a CIQ approved facility and at the moment only 4 have been approved. Hopefully during the month of August, this will become more clear so that shipments from Shanghai will begin smoothly from September!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Beihai Port News from Beihai Daily

Recently, when the writer was doing an interview near Beihai ShiBuLing port (石步岭), noticed that truck loads of fireworks containers were being transported constantly into the Beihai terminal. There were piles of fireworks containers inside the terminal. It showed that the logistic business was growing in Beihai, but at the same time, it created a big challenge to the safety issue.

It was understood that since February and March, there were serious fireworks explosions happened in Sanshui (三水) and Whampoa (黃埔) of Guangdong province, and as a result, the Guangdong government decided to ban fireworks being imported or exported in any of the seaports inside Guangdong province. Sine then, the 60% of the total fireworks export out of China orginally handled by the port of Sanshui had to be diverted to either Beihai or Shanghai port. From June 1st, the Shanghai port announced that the port will not accept any fireworks with higher classification than 1.3G. Then early July, they further announced to stop all transportation of fireworks shipments. From there on, Beihai has become the only sea port in China to handle fireworks.

A CEO of a fireworks export company in Beihai told the writer, that it was his wish that the Beihai government would improve the safety regulations, come out with a better management plan and also to improve the port facility, and to reduce the back log of containers as soon as possible. It was also necessary to limit the number of fireworks containers inside the terminal.

The Pan North Bay Economic Cooperation Forum (泛北部灣經濟合作論壇) and 2008 Beijing Olympic is coming very soon, I wish that the government and the department concerned will pay more attention to the safety regulation of the Beihai port, so as to create a harmonious and stable environment for the long term business development of Beihai city.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Scientists, military search for less toxic fireworks

Bernadette Tansey, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, July 3, 2008

All of us are looking forward to the annual July Fourth fireworks, with their glittering starbursts of red, blue and green.

But chemists are actually trying to make our annual fireworks extravaganzas much greener. A big fireworks show can release poisonous chemicals over land and water, they say, with effects on people and wildlife that have not been fully evaluated.

"Fireworks, though spectacular and entertaining, are a source of concern because of environmental pollution," concluded two university scientists in Germany, Georg Steinhauser and Thomas Klapotke, in a recent review of efforts to produce less toxic pyrotechnics. People who raise concerns about toxins in fireworks, however, risk being branded as fanatical killjoys - even in environmentally conscious California. Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, said the group was treated like it was "stealing Christmas and apple pie" when it pressed state agencies to assess the environmental impact of year-round fireworks shows at the popular SeaWorld San Diego theme park.

"We took a lot of heat," Reznik said. A similar furor arose when the California Coastal Commission barred Gualala from holding a July Fourth fireworks display this year at a site where the noise might frighten seabirds away from their nests. Fireworks are fiercely defended as symbols of every innocent cause for celebration, from romance to national pride.

"You all are the nanny state," said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, a trade group for fireworks businesses. "How much more can we impose on our freedoms?"

However, no less patriotic an institution than the U.S. military is seeking more eco-friendly pyrotechnics. The same environmental concerns are common to both fireworks and military equipment such as signaling flares and airborne weapons. Defense agencies are financing research by scientists including Steinhauser and Klapotke in Munich and explosives experts at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Among the concerns is the cumulative contamination of military testing grounds and training sites.

As the science advances, a fledgling "green pyrotechnics" industry has also sprung up to serve big entertainment businesses such as Disneyland Park in Anaheim, where neighbors' complaints about smoke from frequent fireworks shows prompted the Walt Disney Company to redesign its displays. So far, the market for the expensive new technology is confined to big show-business concerns that put on indoor concerts or wrestling matches where air quality is particularly important, said Darren Naud, a former Los Alamos lab explosives expert who co-founded a company called DMD Systems to serve Disney and other clients.

Naud said the greener fireworks won't achieve a broader consumer market unless regulators tighten restrictions. "If the regulations are not there, people will continue to buy the cheaper stuff," he said.

What worries chemists about conventional fireworks are three kinds of compounds. Flaming combustible elements give off smoky gases and fine particles that might penetrate the lungs. Metals such as barium and strontium add colors to the glittering flames. A third ingredient, perchlorate, promotes burning and supplies chlorine to heighten color. Perchlorate seeps readily through groundwater and is linked to malfunctions of the thyroid and birth defects.

Exploding this mixture of chemicals together may yield new compounds carrying health risks, including dioxins and other powerful cancer-causing substances, Steinhauser and Klapotke said in their February review article in the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie. Poisonous barium compounds can affect the heart and lungs, they said. But few studies have looked at whether the fallout from fireworks leaves harmful concentrations of toxins.

The trade group for fireworks businesses, the American Pyrotechnics Association, maintains that audiences attending the local July Fourth fireworks show have nothing to worry about. "Most communities have a few shows maybe once a year," said Heckman, the group's executive director. Heckman said most fireworks ingredients are consumed in the explosion and quickly dissipate. "The level of contamination is going to be nonexistent, or nominal."

Steinhauser and Klapotke found studies suggesting that fireworks ingredients can cause human health impacts when people undergo intense exposure. One paper noted an increase in asthma during the Indian Diwali festival of lights, and others reported diseases of the lungs, kidneys and other organs among overseas fireworks manufacturing workers.

The vast majority of fireworks used in the United States are imported from China. Many U.S. regulatory agencies oversee the fireworks industry, but they focus on making sure the products can be shipped without exploding and used without blowing off any fingers. In recent years, however, health and environmental concerns have surfaced in California where fireworks are intensively used or were manufactured.

In 2002, the city of Rialto and nearby towns shut down 22 wells contaminated by groundwater plumes of perchlorate spreading from two sites where fireworks and other products had been manufactured decades ago.

In December, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Board required SeaWorld to monitor levels of perchlorate and 40 other components of fireworks in Mission Bay, the aquatic inlet where SeaWorld can hold 150 fireworks shows a year. That permit requirement - the first in the nation - was a victory for San Diego Coastkeeper, which had urged state agencies for years to evaluate the environmental impact of repeated pyrotechnic displays.

"We're not saying nobody should have fireworks," said Reznik. "We're saying let's look at them and see if there's any impact, and if there is maybe they can be changed and be more environmentally friendly."

So far, no danger signs of fireworks-related pollution have turned up in monitoring tests of San Francisco Bay, said Dyan Whyte, assistant executive officer at the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board.

"If it doesn't look like a problem, we don't need to be out there ruining people's Fourth of July," she said. But the water agency will evaluate SeaWorld's studies, and keep an eye on the issue, she said. "This may be one that we need to take a closer look at, at some point."

Too Hot To Handle?

New safety concerns over Chinese-made fireworks.
Caitlin McDevitt
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 1:46 PM ET Jul 3, 2008

Last summer, it was Chinese-made toys, pet food and meat that caused concern. This July 4th holiday, there are new worries about the overly explosive nature of its fireworks. This week, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a report saying it found that nearly half of the shipments they inspected coming from China do not meet Federal safety guidelines. That's especially worrying since, according the American Pyrotechnic Association, 98 percent of fireworks used in backyards and front lawns across America are manufactured in China. NEWSWEEK's Caitlin McDevitt spoke with Scott Wolfson, a chief spokesman for the Commission about its findings and why this Independence Day could be more volatile than in previous years.

In the Commission's test of 400 Chinese shipments, 46 percent of were found to be non-compliant. That seems quite high. What were some common violations?
Wolfson: There are very strict mandatory standards for how much flash powder can be in consumer fireworks. Flash powder is the main ingredient that gives it its explosive nature. We often look for those that are over-packed. There are also standards that deal with stability. The fuse length also has to meet a standard, and there has to be certain labeling.

What's allowable under Federal standards?
Under Federal standards for legal consumer fireworks, there should only be 50 mg of flash powder or less in firecrackers, which stay on the ground and can produce a snake like effect. Aerial fireworks must contain 130 mg or less.

Some of the fireworks you found head for the consumer market was actually commercial grade, meaning they were more explosive and volatile. How are such fireworks ending up in the hands of consumers?
The CPSC has seen unscrupulous sellers willing to provide professional fireworks to consumers. It is actually a felony to sell professional fireworks to a person who does not have the appropriate license. It is also a felony to buy professional grade fireworks without a license.

Are there particular brands or kinds of fireworks that consumers should be wary of?
Anytime a product proves to be volatile the CPSC seeks to remove that product from the marketplace. The CPSC strongly encourages consumers to only use consumer grade fireworks and to use them as intended and directed.

What should people do if they suspect they may have such fireworks?
Consumers should only purchase fireworks from an approved source. They should look for fireworks with brightly colored wrapping, that has the clear and legible name of the product and only buy products out the front door - Consumers should avoid buying products in plain wrapping with no identifiable marking and being sold out the back door.

What, if anything, happens to an offending manufacturer?
We cannot hold a Chinese company accountable, [but] CPSC can hold the importer or distributor accountable. If the product violates federal law and makes its way into the marketplace, then a company can be held liable if they fail to report to CPSC in a timely manner.

What happens to illegal fireworks that the CPSC discovers?
They tend to be destroyed by ATF or Customs.

What's the CPSC doing to ensure the safety of next year's fireworks?

The CPSC inspects and tests consumer fireworks all year.