Scott Anthony: No Personal Fireworks

by Scott Anthony

It's funny how a person's outlook can change over time. There was a time for myself, as a kid particularly, when the most fun I had was putting firecrackers in tin cans to see how high they might go when I lit the fuse. Even when the fireworks fun backfired and scorched off my eyebrows one year, I still continued to buy and use them up until I became an older adult.

As an adult I was content to see the big displays at the park or on TV during New Years and on the 4th of July. Now I think it's time to reconsider entirely, as I can find nothing particularly good about the practice and use of personal fireworks.

If we examine the pros and cons of fireworks use, we come up this something like this:

Pros: an American tradition meant to exemplify our successful liberation from the tyranny of our oppressors, typified by the use of colorful gunpowder filled charges to mimic the theme of battle or just to show our enthusiasm for the coming New Year.

In public displays, the preparation and exhibition of fireworks creates a few jobs around the country, for a few days at least.

Hmm.. I can't think of any other positive aspects of shooting off of fireworks.

I could tick off the negatives with bullet points, so to speak, but for the sake of brevity, I'll summarize with a question and answer format:

Where do the great bulk of fireworks come from?
According to Google, there are at least 321 American Fireworks manufacturers, many of them in Texas. But the ones that are usually purchased by suburban America come from China, either in bulk shipments arranged through U.S. Distributors, or directly from local Indian reservations.

Are personal fireworks safe?
Some suggest that there are more injuries suffered from bicycle or soccer related accidents, but according to the July 1st 2013 edition of the Seattle P.I.,

'Last year in King County, 90 fireworks-related fires were reported. and 17 people were injured, according to the state fire marshal. Overall in Washington, there were 414 fires and 161 fireworks related injuries reported last year.'

That was a 53 percent reduction from the previous year's total, though the 2010 incidents resulted in $2.1 million in property loss. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2000-2004, fireworks started an estimated 32,300 reported fires per year nationwide, including 2,700 building and vehicle fires. More fires are reported on the 4th of July than any other day of the year

Are fireworks really that harmful to the environment?
Beyond the loss of homes or other structures due to fire from out of control fireworks, there is the pollution problem.

Most commercially manufactured fireworks contain heavy metals like Strontium, Cesium and Barium and toxins like Perchlorate. The EPA has conducted research on the use of pyrotechnics over bodies of water and from between 2004 to 2006 in one Oklahoma lake they determined that within 14 hours after the fireworks, perchlorate levels rose 24 to 1,028 times above background levels. Levels peaked about 24 hours after the display, and then decreased to the pre-fireworks background within 20 to 80 days.

Perchlorate adversely affects human health by interfering with iodine uptake into the thyroid gland.

From the National Campaign for Firework Safety comes this:
'Skylighter, Inc., the "supermarket of pyrotechnics," stocks more than 108 different chemical additives used in the production of fireworks. 

Skylighter's inventory includes acetone, ammonium perchlorate, benzoic acid, boric acid, calcium carbonate, xylene, chlorine, alcohol, sodium fluoaluminate, dextrin, sodium benzoate, guanidine nitrate, hexachloroethane, stearic acid, iodine, lactose, lead tetraoxide, sodium bicarbonate, lead monoxide, methylene chloride, shellac, oxalic acid, chlorinated rubber, polyethylene, tungsten, zinc chromate, sodium salicylate, polyvinyl chloride'...etc..

Many health practitioners agree that the simple practice of watching a local fireworks display outdoors subjects the viewer to a cocktail of chemicals that can cause devastating illnesses and exacerbate existing conditions such as Asthma, ME, MS and other auto-immune diseases. If you are downwind from a firework display then you could absorb arsenic, mercury, lead, dioxins and radio-active barium. 


In an informal online survey, some Soldiers, particularly ones who were recently on the frontlines of an active battle, have said that they do not like the explosions. One friend of mine, back from Iraq where he was a driver required to make daily runs into the red zones told me that he can barely tolerate being in public now, as any sharp, loud noise like a car backfiring or even thunder causes him anxiety.

And while it's impossible to control all the noise, it is possible to curtail the unnecessary stuff.

With any sort of leisure human activity that has more negative particulars than positive ones, say, like drinking and driving, eventually the tide of public opinion changes and the practice goes from tolerated nuisance to an intolerated one, then laws are passed and the practice is either limited or outlawed.

I wonder about the future of fireworks displays, even the public ones, and if in 20 or 50 years we will still be setting fire to gunpowder in celebration, or if we will graduate to something less harmful to the ears and the environment. Maybe personal holography could catch on, and we could project images of beautiful colors in fantastic displays into the evening sky, with music instead of mortars.

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