Fuming Fireworks

BY ON July 3, 2012

It’s hard to even imagine sitting out a spectacular blazing 4th of July fireworks celebration. Not only are fireworks a radiant feast for the eyes, but the loud, fiery tradition that delights adults and children from coast to coast is uniquely American. Could there possibly be a downside to fireworks?

Well…yes. While I was heartbroken to read a study conducted by the EPA that found the aftermath of a big glowing fireworks display left spiking chemical levels and contaminated air and water, it did not surprise me. But still, I choked on this…

“Fireworks contain a nasty concoction of toxic chemicals, from lead, barium, chromium, dioxins and even carbon monoxide as well as particle-filled smoke which irritates the lungs.” ~ Ecologist

…and this:

“Pyrotechnics typically contain health-damaging pollutants such as perchlorate to quickly burn fuel, heavy metals (barium, copper, lithium) to produce glittering colors, and sulfur-coal-laced powder charges that send fireworks aloft in the first place.” ~ Earth 911

Skip The Fireworks?

Pollutants in fireworks? Say it isn’t so!

Although the mere mention of pyrotechnics and perchlorate scares the living daylights out of me, I was still not ready to give up just yet on the 4th’s brilliant eye candy. So I asked my friend, Karl Tepfer, a professional photographer whose spectacular fireworks photographs are highly sought after…like the main image displaying fireworks in all their glory over the Statue of Liberty. Could Karl see air pollution through his trained lens?

“This photo was taken right after the fireworks ended. It clearly demonstrates the significant amount of smoke that results from fireworks…The three distinctive plumes of smoke are from three of the five barges that launched the fireworks.” ~ Dr. Karl Tepfer, photographer

Eco-friendly Fireworks?

According to Earth 911:

“Alternatives to conventional fireworks are few – and they’re still far from eco-friendly. Researchers have developed new pyrotechnics that replace percholate and some metals with nitrogen-based materials that produce fewer toxins and less smoke, but they are largely unavailable to the public and may be too expensive for most institutional users.

I’m not ready to declare my independence from fireworks–though, many towns in the West are banning them this year because of tinderbox conditions and fear of igniting fires. I still love the dazzling display, and statistically, the chance of harm to any of us is small. But fireworks are another small reminder that so many things we throw up into the air have consequences that we might not see, but might want to consider.

Have a safe 4th of July!

Photos used with permission: Dr. Karl Tepfer

PLEASE TAKE ACTION TO PROTECT FAMILIES FROM HARMFUL AIR POLLUTION

TOPICS: Pollution, Science

  • http://www.outdoors.org Georgia Murray

    Ronnie,
    Thanks for tackling this subject. The AMC has measured elevated fine particle levels in the mountains of NH over many years around the 4th. It may not be a popular message but it is factual and should be addressed.

    Georgia
    AMC Staff Scientist

  • http://www.econesting.com Ronnie Citron-Fink

    Thanks, Georgia. I hate to be a kill-joy because I love watching fireworks. But the more we learn about what have to do to protect our precious environment, the more we need to be mindful of what we shoot up into the air.

    I just read that folks in Kennebunkport, Maine approved a ban on fireworks because low-level explosives could drive endangered migratory birds from some of their last safe havens. http://bangordailynews.com/2012/06/07/news/portland/kennebunkport-referendum-pits-endangered-birds-against-fireworks-use/

  • http://www.twitter.com/wendybredhold Wendy Bredhold

    Our monitors in Evansville, Indiana, have shown that particulate reaches unhealthy levels on the eve of July 4th. But because of the drought, our city/county and many surrounding communities have banned personal fireworks use and canceled public displays. (Evansville is going on with its display, which takes place over the river.) It will be interesting to see if there is a reduced impact on air quality this year because of the bans.

  • Ellen P

    I think that fireworks should be used on a limited basis. I think that using them for the Fourth of July or if a city has won a major sports championship (Super Bowl, World Series, etc) or New Years Eve but that’s about it. Everytime we turn around, the city I live in is shooting off fireworks. It’s totally unneccessary and in my opinion takes away from what should be SPECIAL occaisions! Not to mention the pollution it causes! I agree, fireworks are American as Apple Pie but do we have to have them everytime a baseball player gets a home run?