Independence (from Fireworks) Day

Fireworks Explosion

This accidental explosion occured during a fireworks show in Capay, CA on July 4, 2008. A fire department professional was injured. Photo: Steve Rypka

Sometimes, all the logic in the world is still not enough. Perhaps its human nature, but we can be extremely resistant to change, even when the preponderance of evidence indicates otherwise. There are countless examples and some are so ingrained in our collective psyche that they are almost invisible to us. Traditional customs are like stories we’ve heard from birth that have become a part of our being, right or wrong. When logic can’t intervene to help us improve our world, even when we know better, perhaps what we need are new stories.

For example, why do we continue to use fireworks? Certainly there are plenty of ways to celebrate special events, from New Year’s to the 4th of July, that are still enjoyable, meaningful, much safer and less toxic. Yet for some reason, we are as attracted to these brief displays of pyrotechnic prowess as moths are to bright lights. The problem is that those relatively few moments of excitement leave a much longer negative impact on the lives of many.

Let’s take safety first. Every year, thousands of people end up in emergency rooms because of injuries suffered Fireworks are beautiful, toxic and dangerous. Are they really necessary?  Photo: Steve Rypkafrom the use of fireworks. Common injuries include burns to hands, arms, legs, and the face; loss of fingers and hands; and eye damage, including blindness. The unfortunate victims are often children but even trained professionals and factory workers have been severely injured. Consider that even a simple sparkler can burn at over two thousand degrees; easily igniting clothing or burning skin. Why do we think it’s OK to hand these over to our kids to “play” with?

Our homes and property are also at risk. I once lived in a home with a shake roof and every July 4th was literally no picnic. People in our neighborhood lived in fear of just one errant bottle rocket or fountain spark that could ignite a hot, dry roof and destroy their home. It happens every year. One state fire marshal has been quoted saying that there was no such thing as a “safe or sane” firework.

Remember, these unfortunate incidents occur due to our completely voluntary choice to manufacture, sell and use products that are inherently dangerous and by almost any account, totally unnecessary.

There’s another cause of concern about fireworks: toxicity. You may escape traumatic injury to yourself or your property, but no one escapes the effects of toxins released into our environment. Every firework display is an injury to the public commons, often in multiple forms. The stuff that makes fireworks interesting to look at comes at a price.

One minute all is well. This is the normal view of the fireworks launch site.The next frame shows the fireworks explosion. Everything is out of control and a fire professional was injured.  Photo: Steve Rypka

Here’s a list of some of the ingredients used to manufacture fireworks: Aluminum, ammonium perchlorate, antimony, barium chloride, cadmium, calcium, carbon, chlorine, copper, iron, lead, lithium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium nitrate, rubidium, sodium, strontium chloride, sulfur dioxide, and zinc.

While a few of these materials are considered safe, several range from mildly to severely toxic. Some have argued that the amount of toxins released by fireworks is small compared to other sources. However, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that belies the old saying “the dose makes the poison.” In other words, even minute amounts of some substances can have serious affects on human and environmental health. Often the effects are cumulative, so each rocket burst adds to the toxic danger we face.

And our actions are not isolated. Even if you’re standing upwind of “the cloud,” those chemicals will still fall on a neighbor’s yard, in another state’s lakes or rivers, or lodge in someone else’s lungs.

It may be impossible to determine a direct link between asthma or cancer and fireworks, but there is no doubt that many people suffer and that we often do not know the exact cause. We do know that poisoning our environment is not very smart. If logic won’t do it, the new story we need to learn is that there is a connection between all things; that we cannot abuse the air, water and earth without consequences; and that even small steps can make a difference.

Let’s declare our independence from fireworks. Celebrate with a block party or take the kids to a parade. Start telling them a new, safer and healthier story. After all, it’s only logical.

Additional Resources:

Fireworks are not worth the risk. One family’s tragic story.

NY man blows off arm with fireworks