I have always worried about fireworks and how they torment and frighten pets and wildlife alike, but not given much thought to their effect on the environment. However, it seems their impact is considerable and not only on our environment but on our health too.
There are so many drawbacks to using fireworks
- Fireworks produce light pollution, noise pollution, debris and litter.
- Gunpowder fuels their flight. Metallic compounds and chemicals color their explosions.
- The explosion of fireworks releases poisonous chemicals and particle-laden smoke.
- If you attend a pyrotechnic display or are just situated downwind of such a display, you can be subjected to high levels of metals. Fireworks get their showy colors, bangs, whistles and more from a variety of chemicals, many of which are toxic to humans.
- Fireworks often contain carcinogenic or hormone-disrupting substances that can seep into soil and water.
- Fireworks release lung-clogging smoke and studies have shown that asthma attacks are more likely during a fireworks display.
And there is more
- The white color is provided by antimony which can harm your lungs and stomach as well as other organs.
- The color green in fireworks is provided by barium which has been linked to gastrointestinal tract as well as heart problems. Barium is poisonous and radioactive.
- Copper compounds are used to produce blue colors, even though they contain dioxin, which has been linked to cancer.
- Cadmium, lithium, rubidium, strontium, lead and potassium nitrate are also commonly used to produce different effects, even though they can cause a host of respiratory and other health problems.
All these chemicals end up on the ground after fireworks displays where they can run off and pollute water sources. Firework displays are often held over large bodies of water where they spray out a toxic concoction that rains down on to lakes, rivers and bays. Many of the chemicals in fireworks are also persistent in the environment where they can sit instead of breaking down, raising concern in many communities that are affected.
4th of July in the USA, Guy Fawkes in the UK, Diwali in India and the ringing in of New Year world wide, are all celebrated with fireworks. Many countries do not even have strict air pollution standards. For example, the millennium celebrations around the world in 2000 filled skies over populated areas with “carcinogenic sulphur compounds and airborne arsenic.” according to the Ecologist.
So what are the alternatives?
- Perchlorate-free fireworks are available although they cost more than traditional fireworks. Perchlorate is only one of the harmful components in fireworks with implications for our health.
- The best is a laser light show which can wow a crowd with dazzling displays of color without launching dangerous chemicals in the air and all the other negative environmental side effects.
- In an effort to green up pyrotechnics, Disney has pioneered new technology that uses environmentally benign compressed air instead of gunpowder as the propellant. Encourage your town to look into the technology for its displays.
- Some people use beautiful sky lanterns to light up the night for your celebrations. Although they last longer than fireworks and are even made from biodegradable paper, they have their own dangers - known to have started fires and the wire structure can cause harm to farm animals.
- On a much smaller scale, use glow sticks and bracelets.
It is not going to happen any time soon but the more people realize the toxic burden of fireworks and the health hazards to their families (including the risk of injuries), the impact on animals and birds, the risk of fires and the cost to the environment, hopefully the less that fireworks will be used.