What to Do About Fireworks?
Is your hotel based in the US? What are your plans for the 4th of July? Will you be organizing a fireworks show in the evening? If you’re not in the US, does your country have a holiday which is traditionally celebrated with fireworks (New Years, independence day)? Oh, and BTW, what’s the environmental impact of fireworks, and should we worry about it?
Um, yes. We should be concerned about the impact of fireworks on our health, and on the environment. Ever wondered what fireworks are made of? The main ingredient is gunpowder, which is made of potassium nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal. They also contain sulfur and metals such as copper, strontium, and barium. But some form of oxidizer is necessary to provide that crashing boom you hear before the colors rain down, and that’s where chlorates and perchlorates come in.
What are chlorates and perchlorates? Chlorates are powerful oxidizers, and are relatively toxic. The (sort of) “good” news is that they have been mostly replaced by perchlorates in newer fireworks. Perchlorates are the salts derived from perchloric acid, and are an environmental pollutant with potentially adverse effects on people and wildlife, and are now considered to be a serious threat to human health and water resources. For one, they inhibit iodine uptake in the thyroid, which can cause hypothyroidism, leading to hormonal imbalance in adults and developmental problems in children.
The really good news is that perchlorates generally dissipate days or weeks after a fireworks show. But that’s only half of it, because what stay on are the heavy metals, including strontium, aluminum, copper, barium, rubidium, and cadmium.
What about other dangers from fireworks?
- What goes up must come down. The chemicals and heavy metals used in fireworks rain down on land and water, contaminating with materials such as strontium, barium, aluminum, and lithium. Sound like something that’s good for land or lakes? Studies of lakes following fireworks displays overhead found that perchlorate levels spiked more than 1,000 times above the baseline level for 14 hours after a show.
- Air-quality monitors generally spike for about three hours after a fireworks show. The same chemicals discussed above can be dangerous to people with asthma or chemical sensitivities.
- Sound, light, water, and air pollution.
- Birds and wildlife can be adversely affected by the noise.
- Fire danger. Did you know that, in the US, more fires are reported on the 4th of July than any other day of the year?
- Paper, plastic, and cardboard used to launch fireworks often do not fully disintegrate, meaning that they rain down and litter the area.
- Some people have noted food-poisoning like illness after attending a fireworks show.
So what to do on [insert your country’s holiday here]?
- Well, the most eco option is to do nothing at all (nothing involving toxic chemicals, that is). Find out who else will be putting on a show in the area, and let your guests enjoy someone else’s fireworks show (it’s in the sky, after all, so it’s free for all to see) and provide some sort of alternate activity for the before and after. Do be sure to educate guests and staff as to why you won’t be doing your own show.
- How about a laser show?
- Will there be a parade in your area? Check it out.
- In the evening, if campfires are permitted in your area, build a fire for some nighttime outdoors festivities.
- Camp out.
- Grill outside.
- Check out the stars if it’s a clear night.
- If you really can’t resist, look into “eco fireworks.” New pyrotechnic formulas have been developed that replace chlorates and perchlorates with nitrocellulose or materials that are rich in nitrogen. These chemicals tend to burn cleaner, produce less smoke, and involve the use of fewer color-producing chemicals such as heavy metals. Why aren’t you hearing more about these new fireworks? They’re more expensive than traditional pyrotechnics, so they’re not as widely used.
- And then there’s air-launch fireworks, first used in 2004 by Disneyland. These pyrotechnics use compressed air instead of gunpowder for launching, which makes for a reduction in fumes.
Clearly, the best solution is to avoid fireworks entirely. Sure, they’re pretty, but they’re also toxic. And who really needs them, anyway?