Fireworks: ‘Easy on the eyes, but not on the conscience’

Opinion by CeciUrbanski

C’s Decrees

The United States spends more money on fireworks than any other country in the world. At around $2.3 billion a year, American consumers spend more money on fireworks than China, the very country who invented them. In fact, in 2014 China put a near complete ban on fireworks after 2200 years of explosive tradition. Countless factors might push a country to place tighter restrictions on pyrotechnics. In China’s case, it was a desperate attempt to curb air-pollution.

Though air pollution is an important issue to be considered, there are countless other overlooked environmental, social and moral issues in America that are a result of our overconsumption of fireworks. Though they might be an exciting way to celebrate holidays, the obnoxious amount of fireworks consumed by Americans every year is not worth the devastating impact they have on people and the planet.

It’s rather easy to see how arming the entire American public with explosives could hurt the natural environment. Every year at the start of July, a haze of smoke progressively thickens in the air as we near the fourth. The clouds of smoke in the sky contain heavy amounts of strontium, barium and lead; key ingredients in fireworks. Those ingredients are a leading contributor to respiratory disease. For most suffering from severe asthma, this means a week indoors until the air is safe to breathe again. Toxins from fireworks also find their way into our water supplies. Ammonium perchlorate, a common firework ingredient, contaiminates groundwater and has been proven to be lethal to aquatic life.

The ecological consequences of fireworks can be tangible and cause long term damage. The number of wildfires in the US shoots up around the Fourth of July season. The fires caused by fireworks burn entire ecosystems and kill the wildlife within them; it takes years for nature to heal form such trauma. The day after the fourth of July and New Year’s, the streets of America look like a war zone: blanketed in litter and debris. Plastic waste and debris is carried into our local ecosystems and remains there for years to come. Both chemical and physical changes in the natural world are immediately detectable after firework holidays.

People with asthma aren’t the only ones who spend the fourth of July inside; fireworks pose a big threat to the general public’s physical safety as well. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, firework related injuries send roughly 9,000 people to the emergency room and leave 15-20 people dead each year. Fireworks are explosives, and burns form them can cause long term as well as life threatening injuries to both the users and bystanders.

Many people’s psychological safety is at risk during the holiday as well. Many combat veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and loud explosive sounds and smells can return the survivors’ minds to the battle field. It seems hypocritical to celebrate the country in a way that tortures some of those who risked their lives for it. These PTSD episodes induced by fireworks are not exclusive to veterans either. Survivors of mass shootings and bombings are likely to revisit some of their trauma during these holidays as well. The safety risks of fireworks apply to everyone and should be taken much more seriously.

Fireworks can be easy on the eyes, but not on the conscience. They cause much more harm to our communities and ecosystems than they are worth. People can have a good time without explosives in their front yards. California has a near complete ban on consumer fireworks and yet they still celebrate holidays like the Fourth with the same enthusiasm by hosting lazer shows and community glow dances. Though many will disagree, I believe that, as a country, it’s time to reevaluate our traditions and leave fireworks in the past.

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