I don’t really like fireworks.
This would once have been a fairly unpopular opinion but it seems more and more people are feeling the same.
It’s not for any one reason but the wastefulness of the whole event bothers me. A fireworks display typically will be around 20 minutes long and each display will vary significantly in style and in how many fireworks are used. In the millennium celebrations in London the 15 minute display used 35 tonnes of fireworks which really doesn’t seem worth it (does anyone remember it?) . Those against fireworks cite 3 main reasons, chemicals, noise and waste so let’s look at each issue.
Metal salts are what are used to give colour to fireworks in a controlled explosion with gunpowder and an accelerant. There hasn’t been that much work done in relation to fireworks and public health but it is certainly known that the chemicals have negative impact. The few studies that have been done seem to agree that areas where fireworks are tested and displayed show groundwater contamination with chemicals that can cause a lot of health issues. A list of the chemicals used can be found here. It is important though not to fear every chemical name as many are harmless and found in low concentrations which won’t cause health issues. However some are still relatively unknown and breathing them in is not recommended.
There is no doubt that fireworks displays cause a large spike in air pollution, so much so that some organisations try to offset the effects. Sydney have a famous display and are attempting to make it carbon neutral by buying offsets such as tree planting. Offsets are a pretty dubious area anyway but in Sydney’s case you have to wonder if paying for a large, fiery, explosive display ($4 million) and then paying for tree planting is really what should be happening at this time in as their own forests are burning?
Anyone with an animal or even a young child can probably agree with this. It might only be for a few nights but there are always stories of animals being spooked and running away. For animals like dogs and cats it is very scary for them and their human family if they get lost. For larger animals like horses and cows the issues can be life threatening if they make their way onto roads or footpaths. The pointless thing is the sound is deliberately loud to be entertaining, you can get quiet fireworks and there is an excellent video of quiet fireworks here. Noise pollution is never viewed as being as serious as air pollution but for many people and animals it is very frightening and disruptive. Interestingly the British Firework Association have said there is “no such thing as a quiet firework” , which is a very strange view given the number of organisations who offer it.
This is likely to be the biggest issue, particularly as people have a greater understanding of the environmental impacts. Most displays won’t use 35 tonnes of fireworks as they did at the millenium celebrations in London. Typically a local fireworks display will be “relatively” cheap at around the £20,000 mark depending on the venue and company used. For large scale displays like Edinburgh Castle or London the display will be closer to £3 million. That is a huge amount of money for 15 minutes of lights. Also though, every firework is packaged seperately by law and it is unlikely much of that can be recycled. Once used and exploded though there is still the metal or cardboard casing that will land somewhere nearby. These still contain contaminants that will affect groundwater and potentially harm wildlife. The question is, how many of these are actually collected? Not that many and millions will be left laying in fields, beaches and rivers after the event. Even if you do recover all the bits of metal and debris, they still can’t be recycled in most cases as they have traces of accelerants and other chemicals. Even a simple sparkler can’t be recycled.
In summary there is far more to fireworks than a simple display. This is before we even touch on the mining to produce all the rare earth metals and metal salts that are required to be shipped around the world. Interestingly, the US military use some of the same chemicals in their weapons and are concerned about the fallout of these chemicals on the people using them and the long term pollution effects in the area they are used. The apparent irony is not lost on the researchers engaged in such work: “I know, some people think it is an oxymoron”, one has said. But it’s hardly cynical to say that, since armed conflicts do occur whether you like it or not, one would rather not pollute the environment afterwards for civilians.” You have feel if the military are worried about the safety of the chemicals then there is probably something to worry about.
One final thought, some people are concerned about polluation from waste incinerators in urban areas but a large fireworks display will produce more dioxin pollution than a waste incinerator will in 120 years as the regulations are far less strict. Of course, there are other pollutants from incineration and it isn’t as clearcut as all that but it is an interesting comparison nonetheless.