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Our Beautiful Extravagant Pollutant

By Larraine Roulston:

For decades, fireworks have been an integral part of celebrations and gala events. Although they bring the community together for an evening of excitement, I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan. Once you’ve seen one extravagant display, in my option, you’ve seen them all. The smoke emanating from the fizzes and echoing explosions that make babies cry and dogs howl contains tiny metal particles. Fireworks indeed have an environmental consequence. As their popularity increases, fireworks remain largely environmentally unchecked.

It has been documented in Spain that the smoke from the Girona’s Sant Joan fireworks fiesta will linger in the city for several days. The annual Diwali display will cause pollutionthat apparently is worse than Beijing on a bad day. In the UK, Guy Fawkes Day holds the distinction of being the country’s most polluted day, but as scientists from King’s College have found, the toxicity also comes from bonfires. Germany’s  tests have shown  how sporting event celebrations that include smoke bombs, flares and other pyrotechnics can fill stadiums with airborne particles. The organizers of both the Canada Day and the U.S. Fourth of July are huge advocates of fireworks. 

As with the release of balloons, what goes up eventually must come down. Balloons often are blown over lakes, where they are found to cause problems for marine life. Fireworks when falling to the ground still contain chemical residues of unburnt propellants and colorants. Sadly, most city organizers choose to host the  event situated on the shores of lakes and riversor bays where these chemicals end up harming marine life. Thyroid problems have been linked to fireworks landing in waters that are the source for our drinking water. This is a concern for vacation areas such as lakeside resortsthat frequently provide firework attractions. The chemicals and heavy metals used in fireworksalso contribute to acid rain. Some U.S. states and municipalities limit such displays in accordance with its Clean Air Act guidelines. The American Pyrotechnics Associationoffers an online directory outlining state laws that regulate their use.

The Walt Disney Companysets off fireworks every evening at its many locations. I was relieved to know that this organization has pioneered a technology that uses compressed air rather than gunpowder. Disney has made this technology available to the pyrotechnics industry at large and is hopeful that other companies will follow suit.

Most children love fireworks; however, I suspect that in most cases it’s the parents who create the hype due to their life-long festive experiences.

Would fireworks ever be missed? One viable alternative might be a laser light show. Without the environmental negative impacts, lasers or a nighttime musical show can be an exciting crowd pleaser. If you feel strongly that taxpayer money should be spent on community social programs or city infrastructure projects, approach your local councilors with an innovative and less expensive alternative to celebrations with such a negative environmental impact.

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Larraine writes children’s illustrated adventure books on composting and pollinating. Please visit, www.castlecompost.com

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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