Celebrate the 4th Safely and While You're at it, Something to Consider
Fireworks shows are woven into the fabric of our country, popular here even before we won our independence. They don't happen everyday. And they are one way to celebrate not only our freedoms, but an opportunity to celebrate a national holiday with our friends and family.
By Scott Eshelman
They are particularly spectacular on our lakes, emitting reflections that carry excitement and memories with them.
But we are beginning to learn that they emit other things not quite as pleasant as the reflections.
Within the last decade studies have been conducted researching the impact of the chemicals used in fireworks and their potential impact on humans and on our lakes.
The findings are preliminary and localized. We do not yet know the long-term effect of the chemicals contained in fireworks.
But we do know this.
A lake is like a bowl which retains and contains most of what is put into it.
We also know that fireworks contain a number of chemicals, most of them toxic. What's in fireworks? Among many others:
§ Barium-a radioactive material that creates the green colors.
§ Lithium-a slightly toxic addition that creates the red colors.
§ Aluminum-used for the bright white colors.
§ Potassium nitrate-one propellant that when combined with other materials can form a cancerous sulfur-coal compound.
§ Ammonium percholate-another common propellant that can contaminate water and disrupt thyroid functions.
So what's the harm if one or two people on a lake enjoy fireworks once or twice a year? Probably not much effect. After all, many other threats exist. However, it's also true that moderating the use of fireworks is easier than everyone rebuilding their septic system.
Here's what else we know.
Some municipalities around the country are beginning to take notice and are beginning to establish ordinances about the use of fireworks for environmental reasons.
And the industry itself is changing. In 2004 Disney began using compressed air to launch fireworks reducing at least the issue of smoky particulates in the air and percholates in the water.
Researchers have also been fine-tuning alternative propellants that use nitrogen-rich materials in place of percholates, but those are still likely several years away from hitting the market.
At the very least fireworks shows have the potential to spray out a toxic concoction that rains down quietly into lakes, rivers and bays throughout the country. Many of the chemicals in fireworks are also persistent in the environment, meaning they stubbornly sit there instead of breaking down.
Without fueling fear we have a lengthy history finding commonly used products that turned out to cause potential (or real) harm. Smoking, mercury emissions, DDT and others are easy to recall for those of us of a certain age.
There's scant evidence that fireworks are having similar effects, the use being infrequent and sparse, but the possibility has been enough to raise concerns in many communities and in the fireworks industry itself.
Let's celebrate the 4th; let's do so safely; and if we are able let's consider the potential impact of how we celebrate.
Further information at:
And from Anvil Lake in Eagle River, WI: https://sites.google.com/site/anvillake/Home/fireworks---environmental-impact