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Fireworks are a class of explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and culture, and religious purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display. A fireworks event (also called a fireworks show or pyrotechnics) is a display of the effects produced by firework devices. Fireworks competitions are also regularly held at a number of places. Fireworks take many forms to produce the four primary effects: noise, light, smoke and floating materials (confetti for example). They may be designed to burn with flames and sparks of many colors, typically red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and silver. Displays are common throughout the world and are the focal point of many cultural and religious[1] celebrations.

The earliest documentation of fireworks dates back to 7th century China, where they were invented. The fireworks were used to accompany many festivities. It is a part of the culture of China and had its origin there; eventually it spread to other cultures and societies. Important events and festivities such as the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and the Mid-Autumn Festival were and still are times when fireworks are guaranteed sights. China is the largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks in the world.
Fireworks are generally classified as to where they perform, either as a ground or aerial firework. In the latter case they may provide their own propulsion (skyrocket) or be shot into the air by a mortar (aerial shell). The most common feature of fireworks is a paper or pasteboard tube or casing filled with the combustible material, often pyrotechnic stars. A number of these tubes or cases are often combined so as to make, when kindled, a great variety of sparkling shapes, often variously coloured. The skyrocket is a common form of firework, although the first skyrockets were used in war. Such rocket technology has also been used for the delivery of mail by rocket and is used as propulsion for most model rockets. The aerial shell is the backbone of today’s commercial aerial display. A smaller version for consumer use is known as the festival ball in the United States. Ground fireworks, although less popular than aerial ones, create a stunning exhibition. These types of fireworks can produce various shapes, such as simple rotating circles, stars and 3D globes.

Fireworks tubes are made by rolling thick paper tightly around a former, such as a dowel. They can be made by hand, although most firework factories use machinery to manufacture tubes. Whenever tubes are used in fireworks, at least one end is always plugged with clay to keep both chemicals and burning gases from escaping through that end. The tooling is always made of non-sparking materials such as aluminum or brass. Experts at handling explosives, called pyrotechnicians, add chemicals for special effects.

Colour Metal Example compounds
Red Strontium (intense red) SrCO3 (strontium carbonate)
Lithium (medium red) Li2CO3 (lithium carbonate) LiCl (lithium chloride)
Orange Calcium CaCl2 (Calcium Chloride)
Yellow Sodium NaNO 3 (sodium nitrate)
Green Barium BaCl2 (barium chloride)
Blue Copper CuCl2 (copper chloride), at low temperature
Indigo Cesium (CsNO3 (cesium nitrate)
Violet Potassium KNO3 (Potassium Nitrate)
Rubidium (violet-red) RbNO3 (rubidium nitrate)
Gold Charcoal, iron, or lampblack
White Titanium, aluminium, berryllium or magnesium powders


The following table is an educational guideline for the chemistry of fireworks.

Symbol Name Fireworks usage Color
Al Aluminium Aluminum is used to produce silver and white flames and sparks. It is a common component of sparklers. Silver, white
Ba Barium Barium is used to create green colors in fireworks, and it can also help stabilize other volatile elements. Green
C Carbon Carbon is one of the main components of black powder, which is used as a propellant in fireworks. Carbon provides the fuel for a firework. Common forms include Carbon Black, sugar, or starch.
Ca Calcium Calcium is used to deepen firework colors. Calcium salts produce orange fireworks. Orange
Cl Chlorine Chlorine is an important component of many oxidizers in fireworks. Several of the metal salts that produce colors contain chlorine.
Cs Cesium Cesium compounds help to oxidize firework mixtures. Cesium compounds produce an indigo color in fireworks. Indigo
Cu Copper Copper produces blue-green colors in fireworks and halides of copper are used to make shades of blue. Blue green, blue
Fe Iron Iron is used to produce sparks. The heat of the metal determines the color of the sparks. Yellow
K Potassium Potassium compounds help to oxidize firework mixtures. Potassium nitrate, potassium chlorate, and potassium perchlorate are all important oxidizers. The potassium content can impart a violet-pink color to the sparks. violet-pink
Li Lithium Lithium is a metal that is used to impart a red color to fireworks. Lithium carbonate, in particular, is a common colorant. Red
Mg Magnesium Magnesium burns a very bright white, so it is used to add white sparks or improve the overall brilliance of a firework. White
Na Sodium Sodium imparts a yellow color to fireworks, however, the color is often so bright that it frequently masks less intense colors. Yellow
O Oxygen Fireworks include oxidizers, which are substances that produce oxygen in order for burning to occur. The oxidizers are usually nitrates, chlorates, or perchlorates. Sometimes the same substance is used to provide oxygen and color.
P Phosphorus Phosphorus burns spontaneously in air and is also responsible for some glow in the dark effects. It may be a component of a firework’s fuel.
Rb Rubidium Rubidium compounds help to oxidize firework mixtures. Rubidium compounds produce a violet-red color in fireworks. Violet-red
S Sulfur Sulfur is a component of black powder, and as such, it is found in a firework’s propellant/fuel.
Sb Antimony Antimony is used to create firework glitter effects. White
Sr Strontium Strontium salts impart a red color to fireworks. Strontium compounds are also important for stabilizing fireworks mixtures. Red
Ti Titanium Titanium metal can be burned as powder or flakes to produce silver sparks. Silver
Zn Zinc Zinc is a bluish white metal that is used to create smoke effects for fireworks and other pyrotechnic devices.



Consumer fireworks are fireworks the general public can buy. They typically have less explosive power than professional fireworks, but can still produce an acceptable show. Some examples of consumer fireworks are firecrackers, rockets, cakes (multishot aerial fireworks) and smoke balls.

Fireworks can also be used in an agricultural capacity as bird scarers.

Shipment / Storage

Booking agents must be especially vigilant in acceptance of fireworks and ensure the authenticity and accuracy of documentation. Inspections of packing plants of regular exporters for fireworks should be conducted periodically to ensure IMO packaging and declaration is correct.

The six hazard divisions of class 1 are:

  • Division 1.1 Substances and articles, which have a mass explosion hazard.
  • Division 1.2 Substances and articles, which have a projection hazard but not a mass explosion hazard.
  • Division 1.3 Substances and articles, which have a fire hazard and either a minor blast hazard or a minor projection hazard or both, but not a mass explosion hazard.
  • Division 1.4 Substances and articles, which present no significant hazard.
  • Division 1.5 Very insensitive substances, which have a mass explosion hazard.
  • Division 1.6 Extremely insensitive articles, which do not have a mass explosion hazard.

This division comprises articles which contain only extremely insensitive detonating substances and which demonstrate a negligible probability of accidental initiation or propagation.

Note: The risk from articles of division 1.6 is limited to the explosion of a single article.

Additional see country specific restriction:

  • The Netherlands
  • Peru
  • Germany
  • Spain
  • Jebel Ali

Fireworks restrictions The Netherlands (Rotterdam)
According to Dutch regulations a vessel may carry cargoes of fireworks into Rotterdam, however the limit of explosive substances should not exceed 1000 kilos IMCO 1.4S (UN number 0337) and/or 500 kilos IMCO 1.4/1.4G (UN number 0336) when transiting inland waterways.

According to an investigation by the Dutch authorities, vessels have been found to carry substantially more explosive substances than permitted and have allegedly been under-declaring the amount of dangerous cargoes on board. The masters of the vessels inspected were not aware of this mis-declaration as although they knew about the fireworks being stowed on board, according to the shippers of the cargo the limit of explosive substances was not reached.

It is the master’s duty to prepare a dangerous goods list and declare the weights of the dangerous goods, hence why the writs are issued against them.

If there is excess fireworks on board a vessel, it is not allowed to enter the port of Rotterdam. These ships must moor at a special berth for dangerous goods instead of transiting inland waters for a berth close to the city. The maximum fine is approx. 10,000 Euros or 1 year imprisonment for the master if the vessel did not breach the rules wilfully, however, if the public prosecutor succeeds in proving that the vessel deliberately breached the rules the maximum fine is in the region of 45,000 Euros or 6 years imprisonment.

Risk factors

Consult the IMDG Code for overseas transport advice on fireworks.

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