Are Fireworks Bad for Us?

Though I probably could fill a blog with snippets, stories, and pictures about my patio (like the time we hosted the most awesome Dinner Sometimes dinner group complete with a piñata, or the time we threw a fundraiser party for a local nonprofit that raised over $1,000, or how my cat has discovered a gap in the screening and climbs outside the patio to sit on a ledge and once freaked out when she couldn’t get back in). But, rest assured that this blog is not about my patio, not exclusively anyway.  It will become a place to explore and discuss various issues of sustainability.  Issues including, but not limited to: eco-living, transportation, gardening, living a non-toxic lifestyle, food production, and climate change.

To quickly start things off, the Fourth of July is still fresh in our minds, and whether you celebrated deliberately or not, you probably still heard the signature booms, bangs, and cracks of our long-standing Independence Day tradition. Yesterday as I was walking to my garden, a shared plot about four blocks from my house, I came upon these organized remnants of July 4th:

If you live in a neighborhood like mine (that is, almost any neighborhood in almost any city), you’ve been kept awake for the past week thanks to the popping and exploding noises coming from every direction surrounding your house.  Fireworks are no longer reserved for large public gatherings; they now explode above baseball stadiums, amusement park rides, newlyweds, and even yards and streets around the country.

The colorful piles of trash I found along my walk got me thinking about what else is left behind besides torn and burnt pieces of cardboard.  Fireworks use a cocktail of both toxic and non-toxic chemicals to launch, burn, and wow us with their colors and shapes.  Have you ever been ooh-ing and aah-ing over a grand finale and suddenly realized you were encased in a cloud of smoke and sulfur odor?  A scientist I am not, but I do recognize a questionable chemical situation when I find myself in one.  The ingredients for those bursts of color include aluminum, copper, magnesium, and sodium, caused to explode by charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate.  And that’s just a start. There are a host of other compounds involved in this tradition, some that hang in the air and fall into waterways, accumulating in fish and plant life.  A few studies have shown that there is an immediate drastic impact on air and water quality, but it seems the jury is still out on long-term effects. Chances are that if you’re in fairly good health, you won’t suffer much more than an irritated throat and slight headache, and there are simply too many chemicals pouring into our atmosphere on a daily basis to assign much blame to our firework habit.

But with all of the manufacturing chemicals we put into the atmosphere daily, do we really need to toss a few tons more into the mix just for 30-odd minutes of a celebration?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy myself a decent firework show every once in awhile, but it’s more about the gathering of people than the show. I enjoy celebratory affairs with my community. I enjoy being in a large crowd of people united by some common cause. Most of all, I enjoy the swelling sense of happiness and vigor that come from appreciating something in unison, whether it’s a baseball game, a party, a rally, or I suppose, a fireworks display. And maybe that feeling outweighs the perchlorates and particulates? Maybe at least for now…

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  • July 2011
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