Pyro has become a major talking point in the media and amongst football fans. While it has been used over the years, over the last few seasons it has spread in popularity to the point that has been deemed a major problem by the Football Association. Threats of banning orders and prosecution have become commonplace and Premier League clubs have been encouraged to take a zero tolerance approach to anyone trying to use pyro. The FA have been very vocal in their campaign to discourage pyro with http://www.facepyrofacts.co.uk/ being promoted heavily. However, there seems to be a lot of misinformation about pyro so I decided to do some research on the subject and see if I could get to the bottom of what, if any the real perils and pitfalls of pyro are.
The first thing to note is that pyro is very much a buzzword created to make smokebombs and flares sound trendy. The. “No pyro, no party” tagline has swept social media largely amongst younger supporters who insist that without it games simply aren’t that exciting. Words like, “harmless” are used while people who condemn or dislike their use are accussed of sucking the joy and atmosphere out of games. There seems to be quite a clear division between people who are all for it and those who are against it. The question that is perhaps most important is, is pyro harmless?
The FA and media would have you believe that not only is it harmful but it is close to deadly! Talk of temperatures of 1600 Centigrade appear excessive when studies of the flares and smoke bombs used show temperatures of a quarter of that. However, 400 Centigrade is still a little bit toasty! There appears to be some confusion about the types of materials used in smoke bombs. The FA admits they use the, “worst case scenario” when it comes to smoke bombs and according to Wikipedia:
Smoke compositions used as obscurants generate large amount of thick, usually white, smoke. The most common smoke composition for pyrotechnic generation of smoke screens is the zinc chloride smoke mixture (HC).
Zinc chloride smoke
Zinc chloride smoke is grey-white and consists of tiny particles of zinc chloride. The most common mixture for generating these is the zinc chloride smoke mixture (HC), consisting of hexachloroethane, grained aluminium and zinc oxide. The smoke consists of zinc chloride, zinc oxychlorides, and hydrochloric acid, which absorb the moisture in the air. The smoke also contains traces of organic chlorinated compounds, phosgene, carbon monoxide, and chlorine.
The medical implications to exposure to this sort of smoke is potentially severe. The metal particles (zinc) and chemicals can be very dangerous when inhaled. Symptoms include dyspnea, retrosternal pain, hoarseness, stridor, lachrymation, cough, expectoration, and in some cases haemoptysis. Delayed pulmonary edema, cyanosis or bronchopneumonia may develop. The smoke and the spent canisters contain suspected carcinogens.
The prognosis for people exposed to smoke inhalation depends on the degree of the pulmonary damage. All exposed individuals should be kept under observation for 8 hours. Most affected individuals recover within several days, with some symptoms persisting for up to 1-2 weeks. Severe cases can suffer of reduced pulmonary function for some months, the worst cases developing marked dyspnea and cyanosis leading to death.
However, the more likely form of smoke bomb used is less immediately dangerous in medical terms but still carries a threat.
This form of colored smoke composition can be used for signalling. These are usually based on a low-temperature burning pyrotechnic composition, mixed with a dye that gets vaporized and creates large, colored smoke particles. The composition is often based on an oxidizer (e.g. potassium chlorate, potassium nitrate, or potassium perchlorate), a fuel (e.g. lactose), an optional coolant (e.g. sodium bicarbonate), and one or more dyes.
Despite the lack of metals in the this particular form of smoke used there are still dangers involved and there is still an increased risk of respiratory distress. Potassium nitrate also known as salt peter is often a component in home made smoke bombs and has been shown to irritate eyes and the respiratory tract something that a number of fans I have spoken to about their experience with pyro have complained about.
While there seems to be no one specific product used by football fans at presents the risks appear to be quite real although the propaganda created from both sides of the argument appear to be doing little other than misinform and spread panic. A study by an Institute for Chemistry tried to discover whether smoke bombs in football stadia did significantly effect the air. A full copy of the study can be found here.
Although results were inconclusive and more study was recommended, they did indicate that anything that gives off chemicals and heat has potential to be harmful be that cigarrette smoke or smoke bombs. The degree to which this is the case depends on factors such as ventilation and how enclosed the area is. Regardless it seems common sense that inhaling smoke to any degree in an enclosed area has the potential to cause problems.
Of course even without the potential for respiratory problems, especially in those with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma or COPD, there are safety concerns that have been highlighted around the use of smoke bombs. The heat created from something that is, when all is said and done an incendiary device while, while exaggerated in some circles has the potential to cause fire damage and there is a caseload of people who have suffered injuries and burns as a result of their use. There are enough complaints from fans of eye irritation to consider the smoke an irritant and of course there are a minority of idiots who have used such devices as missiles.
From a practical point of view the use of pyro provides an obstruction, if temporary to those viewing the game and also masks the behaviour of fans from stewards and Police. While fans claim that pyro adds to the atmosphere it would appear that their are enough concerns, until further studies are completed to make the total banning of them both necessary and prudent. Maybe in future there will be such a thing as safe pyro but for the time being, everything I have read and everything I have heard leads me to believe that there is no place for it in modern football. I am open to someone proving otherwise.