Are fireworks bad for the environment? What to know

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Are fireworks bad for the environment? What to know
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Over the 4 July weekend, it is tradition for Americans to gather across the country and watch fireworks splay red, white, blue and plenty of other colours across the sky.

But while the Independence Day holiday may be something that has gone on for years, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any potential environmental impact.

For one, those rockets contain a whole bunch of chemicals, some of which aren’t particularly friendly to humans or animals.

A 2020 study found that some fireworks can result in tiny particles of metals like lead entering the air. Lead air pollution can lead to health concerns like cardiovascular issues and neurological problems in children, as well as neurological issues in wildlife, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says.

Fireworks shows on 4 July may also raise general levels of tiny particulate matter — known as PM2.5 — in the air, according to a separate study.

Those researchers found that generally, PM2.5 concentrations increased by about 42 per cent around the country for the 24-hour period starting at 8 PM on July 4, with the most severe increases coming in the evening hours when most fireworks are going off.

In one location that was right next to a fireworks display, fine particulate concentrations increased by 370 per cent for those 24 hours, they found.

PM2.5, or particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns (TK millimetres) are associated with hazy skies and health issues like respiratory and cardiovascular trouble, EPA says.

Fireworks also raise the risk of starting wildfires, especially in drought- or fire-prone areas.

It’s pretty easy to see why — fireworks send sparks out into the sky and raining down on the ground, and if the groundcover is dry enough, those sparks could start a fire.

Between 2014 and 2018, an average of 16,200 fires were started by fireworks every year, and 59 per cent of those were “brush, grass, or forest fires”, according to a report from the National Fire Protection Association.

In 2017, a firework started the Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon that burned through over 48,000 acres, the US Forest Service says.

Some places like Flagstaff, Arizona are cancelling fireworks displays because of the wildfire risk, reports the Associated Press.

But instead, the city will put on a laser light show, AP says— and in North Lake Tahoe, California there will be a show filled with light-up drones in the night sky.

Both areas have experienced nearby wildfires recently. This year, the Pipeline Fire and the Tunnel Fire have each scorched over 19,000 acres — 40 per cent the size of Washington, DC — in areas north of downtown Flagstaff.

And last year, the Caldor Fire consumed over 220,000 acres — larger than New York City — around South Lake Tahoe, getting perilously close to that city.

Imperial Beach, California, Lakewood, Colorado and Galveston, Texas are also switching to drone shows this year, Axios reports.

Much of the western US is currently in the grip of serious drought conditions, with large parts of Texas, California and Colorado in “severe” or worse drought, according to the US government’s drought monitor.

Current conditions are part of the decades-long “megadrought” that has crippled western North America.

As the climate crisis grows, the American West can expect to see more wildfires as temperatures rise and droughts get worse.

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