It’s the 4th of July! Watermelon! Pool/Beach/River/Lake/Sprinkler parties! Flag themed everything! The (un)official start of summer for those of us up here in the PNW where June gloom is usually very, very real!
But also, FIREWORKS. So many fireworks.
Okay, unpopular opinion, but I’m going to say it anyway: Can we please tone it down with the fireworks? They’re beautiful and magical to watch, but—kind of like glitter—the source and (literal) fallout of all that pizazz is way less glamorous.
The reality is that fireworks are pretty bad for The Land of The Brave and all its inhabitants, people and wildlife, alike.
Warning: This is a real wet-blanket read.
What’s in all that smoke, and what gives fireworks their trademark smell? Well, turns out that’s thanks to a whole host of toxic chemicals and heavy metals. We’re talking the stuff that makes fireworks burn and explode, metal compounds that make those pretty colors, oxidizers that allow for fuel combustion, binders, and color-strengtheners.
Honestly, it’s some pretty nasty stuff, and the doses are shockingly high. One study of 315 U.S. testing sites found that the Independence Day fireworks displays increased air pollution by 42% compared to an average day. At its peak, smoke from fireworks is comparable to that from wildfires.
Heavy Metals and Gasses
It’s not just that particulate matter (what’s meant when we talk generally about pollution) is elevated. It’s what that particulate matter is made up of that is really dangerous. The list of elevated pollutants is long, but some cute and recognizable ones include: lead, aluminum, benzene, barium, perchlorate, and chloride. The negative health impacts associated with inhaling just those listed above include damage to the brain and central nervous system, hormone disruption, irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract, respiratory distress, and more. Yuck.
Folks with asthma, heart and lung disease are especially prone to complications from ambient air pollution caused by fireworks, and may experience adverse health impacts for longer than the actual poor air quality lingers.
Children are even more susceptible than adults. Their little bodies aren’t good at defending against particulate matter and gaseous pollutants, or at metabolizing and detoxifying these agents. Plus, because they tend to be more active than adults, they inhale significantly more than the average grownup, increasing their toxic load.
Another negative consequence of these enormous birthday candles is water pollution. All that toxic particulate matter doesn’t stay in the air—it settles onto the ground and into water, polluting soil, groundwater, and waterways. From there, it can get into the food chain and our bodies in a whole variety of ways.
Fireworks are shot into the air where they explode, bursting the casings all over the place. It’s exploding litter. At the least offensive, this litter is more garbage for landfills and oceans, but it’s also choking hazard for wildlife, and toxic if ingested.
You know it’s coming… the noise. Pets are TERRIFIED of those loud booms. In fact, 30% more pets are lost over July 4th celebrations than any other time of year. Not to mention how sad it is to hold your dog while she shakes in terror for hours.
It’s not just pets, either. The bright lights and sounds are catastrophically disruptive to all sorts of wildlife, from bald eagles and great blue herons to small mammals. Fireworks cause these animals to flee from their nesting places, abandoning migratory roosts, and sometimes abandoning their young. Because of the chaos, often moms are never able to find their way back to their babies. Fleeing in fear also results in animals behaving in unusual ways that expose them to other dangers, like predators or road crossings. Birds are particularly at risk, as whole roosts often take off together. There have been horrific incidents where thousands of birds have all died at once as a result of fireworks.
Adding wildfire risk needs no explanation. The entire country is all too familiar with the devastating effects (smoke season) of forest fires at this point. We don’t need any additional accidental kindling.
Phew, okay, I said it. Sorry I’m not sorry.