On this July 4th as many are celebrating the nation’s independence by watching traditional fireworks displays, revelers should take note that these customary shows are an environmental detriment.

Gunpowder is the usual explosive device that launches the fireworks cartridge in the air. It consists of the chemicals potassium nitrate, charcoal (carbon) and sulfur powder, that when ignited, release large amounts of black smoke into the air. The familiar sulfur (rotten egg smell) and burnt smell that one associates with fireworks are concentrated amounts of pollution created directly from the ignited gunpowder.

Some solutions to the gunpowder-launching problem have actually come from Disney (which has a fireworks display every night over their fairytale theme parks). Disney has developed an air-launch technology that they have openly shown to the pyrotechnics industry.

The fireworks themselves are encased in plastic tubing, which litter the ground or bodies of water they fall into. The plastic can cause problems when their chemical makeup leaches out into the water or ground. Some now are encased in cardboard or paper maché which disintegrate in water.

The fireworks are made with many different chemicals and heavy metals that cause air pollution and can be hazardous to water sources. E Magazine writes that:

Depending on the effect sought, fireworks produce smoke and dust that contain various heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds and other noxious chemicals. Barium, for instance, is used to produce brilliant green colors in fireworks displays, despite being poisonous and radioactive. Copper compounds are used to produce blue colors, even though they contain dioxin, which has been linked to cancer. Cadmium, lithium, antimony, rubidium, strontium, lead and potassium nitrate are also commonly used to produce different effects, even though they can cause a host of respiratory and other health problems.

Perchlorate, one of the chemicals used in fireworks, is of even greater health and environmental concern. Studies about its effects have been made by scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Dr Richard Wilkin of the EPA and fellow scientists studied an Oklahoma lake before and after fireworks displays from 2004-06.

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.

EPA studies have shown the chemical to affect the thyroid’s intake of iodide.

In lieu of fireworks viewing to celebrate the holiday, environmental magazine Plenty suggests banging on pots and/or singing instead.

Happy July 4th.

keeping the earth ever green


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