Smog has helped put a damper on New Year’s Eve celebrations throughout Italy, as Rome, Milan and other cities ban fireworks to avoid aggravating already high levels of air pollution.
Dozens of towns and cities have cancelled fireworks displays and banned setting off firecrackers and other personal pyrotechnics, citing the poor air quality and also to protect animals from becoming agitated by the noise.
The bans also take into account public safety, as hundreds of people are injured each year setting off celebratory fireworks.
The mayor of Bari, in the south, has urged citizens to help police the ban, asking for smart phone video of anyone setting off explosions.
Authorities, meanwhile, have seized tons of illegal fireworks in separate actions throughout the country, including 300kg of explosive powder in Caserta, near Naples, with a value of €400,000.
Rome and Milan are among the cities that have put restrictions on driving in recent days as levels of pollutions have exceeded legal limits, posing a threat to public health.
Government officials have drafted new measures to combat the rising pollution levels, exacerbated by a lack of rain and wind, including lowering thermostats and speed limits.
Milan officials estimate that the annual fireworks frenzy emits 44 tons of harmful particles.
Pyrotechnic professionals, however, said their products pass EU environmental and acoustic norms and that the ban damages their business.
“The pollution solution does not depend on us,” said Antonio Fiotta, the owner of a fireworks shop in Milan. “It depends on other causes, which fall outside of our business.”
Fireworks are being permitted in Florence, the Adriatic coastal city of Rimini and Naples, which has a particularly strong fireworks tradition featuring explosions of rockets, firecrackers and other devices so unrelenting that residents habitually leave windows open to avoid breakage.
Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin is using his New Year’s message to highlight the country’s current fight in Syria while commemorating the battles of the Second World War seven decades ago.
The recorded message will be televised just before midnight in each of Russia’s nine time zones.
Mr Putin sent holiday greetings to “our servicemen who are fighting international terrorism, making a stand for Russia’s national interests, in the far abroad”.
Russian warplanes began bombing sorties in Syria on September 30. At least two of its servicemen have been killed in the campaign.
He also noted that in 2015 Russia marked the defeat of Nazi Germany and said: “The experience of our fathers and grandfathers, their unity in that difficult time and their strength of spirit is a great example for us.”