Fireworks – beautiful but environmentally damaging

I loved fireworks when I was a kid. I remember the excitement leading up to the one day of the year that ordinary folks could purchase roman candles, po-has, tom thumbs, ball shooters and a myriad of other fireworks.

When I started to work at an animal shelter at the tender age of 11; I saw another side to the festivities. Leading up to and immediately after the big night, we’d not only get animals coming in that escaped their yards after having been terrorized by the sound of fireworks; but also wounded by the same. Sadly, often these injuries were intentional. 

I have seen a dog that had explosive fireworks inserted into its anus. I’ve seen a kitten with its leg blown off after having a similar firework attached. I’ve seen domestic and native animals with singed fur, feathers and burns after being used as targets by people with  ball shooter fireworks. Some people are just incredibly sick and it was quite a shock to witness this babarity at such a young age.

Still, even now I admire the beauty of a well executed fireworks display, but I had never given the environmental aspect a lot of thought past the animal cruelty aspect.

One of the major environmental problems of fireworks is a chemical called perchlorate in the form of  potassium or ammonium perchlorate; a commonly used ingredient in explosives. It’s an evironmentally persistent contaminant that is increasingly being found in drinking water and groundwater – even in cow’s milk. Perchlorate can inhibit the thyroid gland’s ability to absorb iodine from the bloodstream in humans, fish and animals.

A study by the EPA on a lake in Omaha where a fireworks display was held showed that perchlorate levels in the lake water rose up to 1,028 times the measurement taken pre-fireworks display. It took up to 80 days for the lake to fully return to its previous perchlorate saturation levels.

There’s not only the percholate issues, but the use of heavy-metal colorants and other chemicals in fireworks that are environmentally damaging. Smoke from fireworks displays and associated bonfires can create a visible difference in smog levels in a city the following day.

While fireworks aren’t a major issue when compared to some of the other environmental challenges we face, it’s just another example of how much our pursuit of entertainment impacts on the natural world and it begs the question – are they something we really need, or at least on such a scale?

Personally, I think watching a meteor shower or a shooting star is as good as a fireworks display and there’s a sense of achievement when you spot one; it adds to the awe and special nature of the phenomenon.

Maybe we all need to turn more to nature for the “oohs” and “ahhs” moments in our lives?