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Things That Go Boom

Fireworks are fun, but is the environment celebrating?


Fireworks do a bang-up job of entertaining us, but they also have an explosively awful impact on the environment.


And a Happy Fourth to you, too!


Yes, as you go about your patriotic or simply traditional business watching the holiday sky shows and patronizing one of the many fi reworks booths scattered about the capital region before July 4, please take a moment to consider how pleasure and gunpowder can be a problematical mix.


Writer Jessica Han does a thorough job in outlining fireworks’ dark side in an article she wrote this spring for the international sustainability-gazing organization earth.org, “Crowd Pleasing Fireworks Are Not So Pleasing to the Planet.” She begins by explaining that gunpowder (aka black powder) is composed of 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal and 10% sulfur. Contained and ignited, it blows up.


“Mineral elements are mixed with black powder, providing color to these explosions,” Han elaborates. “Some colors simply require one element to produce the targeted color. For example, only strontium is needed to make red, sodium for yellow, and barium for green.” Copper, carbon, aluminum and manganese are also used to craft the fireworks’ palette.


What do such minerals do upon airborne detonation?


“The temporary enjoyment of fi reworks releases a host of contaminants that affect air quality and can contribute to climate change, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter,” Han writes. She points out that the air in New Delhi, during a 2017 fi reworks-soaked celebration of Diwali, recorded a particulate matter measurement of 900 micrograms. Anything above 5 micrograms is considered unhealthful.


The article also points out that fireworks displays can:


• Prompt wildlife to leave their habitats or abandon their migratory routes, sometimes permanently. They also become susceptible to ingesting some of the explosions’ toxic debris. • Widely distribute perchlorate, which “is often associated with contaminating soil and water. This chemical remains in the environment for long periods, easily absorbed by neighboring flora.” • Increase microplastic pollution in waterways.


Science Daily provides more specifics on fireworks’ deleterious effects on wildlife. Research has shown “fireworks in Spanish festivals impacting the breeding success of House Sparrows, July firework displays being implicated in the decline of Brandt’s Cormorant colonies in California, and South American sea lions changing their behavior during breeding season as a result of New Year’s fireworks in Chile.”


Well, how about some of the tamer domestic-use fireworks, such as good old sparklers? Kristine Nguyen blogs on brightly.eco that the little hand-helds “involve an iron rod, an oxidizer to produce the color, a fuel that keeps the sparkler burning, and a binder to hold everything together.” None of that is environment nurturing. As too many children and their parents have learned, sparklers can instead be injury inducing.


Are there alternatives to fireworks shows? Certainly. The website DW.com (whose slogan is “Made for minds”) reports: “In South Korea, where fireworks usage is largely limited to official events, drone shows have gained traction in recent years, often producing brilliant and beautiful results.


“The German city of Landshut, where fireworks have been banned at New Year’s Eve for several years, has become renowned for its impressive laser light shows. And in the Irish capital Dublin, previous years have been welcomed in with a mixture of traditional pyrotechnics and laser shows.”


Perfect solutions, drones and lasers are not.


But they are less destructive than fireworks.


Hey, at least this month’s sustainability column didn’t set out to make you feel guilty about beer and hot dogs. Wait until next year!

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