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  • Writer's pictureJenni Foshey

How Fireworks Impact the Environment

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

The Fourth of July is just around the corner, which means fireworks are going to be filling the skies. Going to a firework show or having one of your own has been a tradition for decades worldwide whether it’s for the Fourth of July, Diwali, or any other celebration. Since fireworks hold a prominent role in society for celebrations, it is hard for people to back away from- especially since most people do not know (or care) about the negative effects that fireworks can have on the environment, wildlife, animals, and humans.


How Are Fireworks Bad For The Environment?

I’m no chemist, but after some research of my own, I’ve learned a bit about the content of fireworks and how they impact the surrounding area. Fireworks are made of toxic chemicals and often have carcinogenic or hormone-disrupting substances that get into soil and water systems as well as your lungs. I’ve come to see that there are three major parts of a firework display that are important to know.

First is the take off. This is when a chemical reaction is taking place to set the firework off. This is basically gunpowder, which is a blend of charcoal, sulfur fuel, and potassium nitrate. But, more common now-a-days is perchlorates which is a family of chemicals featuring chlorine and oxygen.

Second is the actual firework that you see in the sky. The color and display are all based on what (toxic) chemicals are combined. For instance, barium and copper are used for colors and titanium and antimony are used to make the sparkles and crackles. These metal particles can leave cities polluted for days. Interestingly, particle filters are present and kept updated on most diesel vehicles and factory emissions, but pollution caused by firework particles isn’t monitored at all. Perhaps this is because firework displays are not a daily occurrence, but vehicle usage and factory emissions are.

Third is the aftermath. After fireworks explode, the chemical particles end up in soil and water systems. Once these chemicals are in the environment, they are there for a long time; they don’t break down easily. This is similar to how fish can have high mercury levels in them and how DDT affected wildlife, like bald eagle reproduction.

One chemical from fireworks is cadmium. Cadmium affects humans by causing kidney disease, lung damage, and fragile bones while cadmium in the environment works its way through the food chain.

Also, many US states have limits set for certain chemicals that may be found in drinking water because of firework pollution that ends up in lakes and rivers.

And in addition to the chemical aftermath, firework remains (like plastic and cardboard tubes) pose a threat to wildlife and animals that may find them.

What About Small Fireworks Like Sparklers?

Just because they are smaller, doesn’t mean they don’t emit chemicals. Of course, it is much less. Sparklers emit nanoparticles during combustion and are also ignored and unregulated, which is weird considering its mainly children whom play with them. But, looking at the environmental effects we still see large proportions of chemicals (just not as much) being released into the atmosphere, just like fireworks.

What Can I Do To Limit Environmental Harm From Fireworks?

Well, the easiest and most effective thing to do is to not buy or use any. I understand this is hard for some families since it’s tradition, so perhaps try limiting the amount you buy. There are eco-friendly fireworks available but can be hard to find. Also, if you are buying fireworks, consider purchasing the “white only” ones because they are less harmful to the environment (due to less toxic chemicals that would be used in colorful ones). You can also just find an alternative to fireworks. Some people prefer to go to parades or laser light shows instead.

Dispose of fireworks properly. Firework waste can’t be recycled. If you throw firework waste in with recyclable items, those items will be contaminated and no longer be recyclable. So, that’s just a lose-lose situation right there. You can most likely just Google where you can recycle firework waste to find out how you can recycle it in your area.

If you are appalled at the effects of fireworks on the environment and their poor regulation, you may want to consider looking for firework banning petitions to sign. These are actually quite popular in many cities worldwide because people want to see a change for the sake of the environment, animals, wildlife, and human health.

Lastly, please note that I am not an expert on environmental effects that fireworks have, but this is the basics of what I know. In my opinion, I believe that there are other things that should be prioritized when looking at environmental harm, such as fossil fuels and industrial pollution. I believe that yes fireworks are bad for the environment, but they are not as bad as other things. But maybe they are just as bad, and I just don't know that. Or maybe there just isn't enough research on the subject. I wouldn't be surprised though about it not being researched much due to how unregulated they are currently.


Note About Pets:

If you have pets, please consider them during the Fourth of July firework celebrations. Your pets should be inside during fireworks because they are super sensitive to the noise. DO NOT BRING THEM WITH YOU TO A FIREWORK SHOW. It’s way too loud and stressful for them. Leave them at home and close windows so the noise isn’t as loud, and make sure they have access to areas that are comforting to them (whether their bed or hiding under someones bed if needed). You can also leave the TV on for some background noise. If your dog has extreme anxiety during fireworks, consult their veterinarian as they may be able to provide anxiety meds as needed.



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