NEW YORK (CBS) – Fireworks get their beautiful, vibrant colors from metals, and now researchers at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine have found that fireworks sold to consumers can release toxic metals into the air.

“I was surprised there were such high levels,” said lead study author Dr. Terry Gordon.

Dr. Terry Gordon, of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. (WBZ-TV)

He said his son, Christopher, came up with the idea to study the toxicity of fireworks particles for a high school science project. They collected airborne particles emitted from about a dozen different types of fireworks and tested them on human cells in the lab.

“We found high levels of lead in one of the 12 samples. Another common metal we found was copper at high levels. We also found strontium, barium and titanium and aluminum,” Gordon said.

Researchers also analyzed air quality samples taken over 14 years and found toxic metal levels were higher around the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, popular times for fireworks.

“Nobody considers the metals and the particles that we’re going to breathe,” Gordon said. “And the consumer fireworks are mostly for young children. One should not assume that these are safe just because a manufacturer sells them. And obviously, I feel that the manufacturers should up their game, so to speak, at testing fireworks.”

Gordon said that while more study is needed, he plans to share his findings with health officials, fireworks manufacturers and regulatory agencies.

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