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


TOPICS: Pollution, Science