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Friday, July 3rd, 2015

This Independence Day, don’t get burned: Let the professionals set off the fireworks

Independence Day is almost here, and as the celebration of America’s founding has inched closer, federal, state and local officials have become increasingly vocal about the dangers posed by setting off fireworks, particularly with conditions so dry this year. Authorities are emphatically urging people to go see a community sponsored, professionally run fireworks show instead of setting off Roman candles, sparklers, and spinners in a backyard, parking lot, or neighborhood ballfield.

This is excellent advice that everyone should follow. Every year, lives are lost, severe injuries sustained, fires started and property destroyed as a consequence of people fooling around with fireworks during the Fourth of July. Take this statement to heart: The cheap thrills simply aren’t worth the risks.

Here are four reasons why you should get your fireworks fix at a celebration like the Seafair Family Fourth instead of in the backyard or in a vacant lot somewhere.

Fireworks cause fires

Let’s start with the obvious.

Setting off fireworks can cause fires that can get out of hand very quickly, particularly when conditions are dry and hot, as they are this year. Out of control fires can result in the rapid destruction of property, as we have seen recently in Wenatchee with the Sleepy Hollow fire. That particular fire wasn’t ignited by fireworks, but fireworks make an excellent ignition source for dangerous fires.

The King County fire marshal reports that in King County alone last year, fire agencies responded to nearly two hundred fire calls with eighty-two of them related to fireworks, as reported in the 2014 Washington State Fire Marshal report.

Just today, a brushfire was started in Puyallup by people who were stupidly and carelessly setting off fireworks without regard for the consequences. Fortunately, firefighters were able to put it out. Fire investigators know that particular fire was caused by fireworks because of the evidence left behind at the scene.

And on Wednesday, two men in Lynnwood were arrested after they illegally set off fireworks that started a grass fire.

Fireworks can injure or kill

Improperly ignited fireworks can cause serious injury or even death to unsuspecting revelers who are only intent on having a good time. This is a problem that’s been getting substantially worse over the past few years.

Nexstar Broadcasting’s Austin Lewis reports:

Thousands of Americans are headed out to buy fireworks this Fourth of July weekend. Last year, more than 10,000 people were injured in fireworks-related incidents and 11 people died, an increase in deaths from the previous year.

The CPSC [Consumer Product Safety Commission] says children under 15 had the highest rate of injury of any age group, accounting for 40 percent of patients. The hands and face are the most commonly injured body parts. According to a national study, eye injuries from fireworks have doubled in the past three years.

The CPSC conducted a public safety demonstration on the National Mall in the District of Columbia to show just how dangerous fireworks can be when improperly handled. Watch the horrifying video yourself right here:

The sobering stories just keep on coming. Only two days ago, a twelve-year old boy had to be transported to Harborview Medical Center’s specialized burn unit after he was badly burned by fireworks near an Auburn fireworks stand.

Fireworks cause noise pollution

When you choose to set off fireworks late at night in a backyard, park, asphalt lot, the grounds of a school, or some other public or private open space, you’re contributing to rampant noise pollution that prevents other people nearby from getting a good night’s sleep or relaxing. You also become a major source of anxiety to nearby animals… from dogs to cats to horses and rabbits.

If the professionals were the only ones setting off fireworks, Independence Day noise pollution would be kept to a manageable minimum and within a reasonable timeframe, because professional fireworks displays usually take place between 10 and 11 PM on the Fourth, and don’t typically run for longer than twenty minutes.

Unfortunately, when people throughout a given neighborhood choose to alternately set off fireworks for hours and hours, it creates a nuisance that simply won’t end. Many people who keep pets dislike the Fourth of July because of the anxiety the discharge of fireworks causes to their companions, and thus, to them.

Many veterans, meanwhile, can be bothered by the booms, snaps, and crackles, because the noise can aggravate their post traumatic stress disorder.

Keep in mind that what you consider to be having a good time may be giving someone else a bad time. Your neighbors will thank you if you choose to be a fireworks spectator instead of a wannabe pyrotechnic wizard trying to impress family or friends in the backyard.

Spent fireworks create litter

Every year, a lot of waste is unnecessarily created as a result of fireworks being discharged on public and private property. Worse, many people don’t even collect their spent fireworks for proper disposal. This creates unnecessary cleanup work that is often paid for at taxpayer expense. KCBD of Lubbock, Texas reports:

Manuel Delacruz knows all too well the mess fireworks can leave behind. “You can see the grass here,” Delacruz said, motioning a lot across the street of their stand. “July 5th? You won’t see no grass. You’ll see a bunch of paper and trash.”

As a TxDOT employee, Delacruz usually has had to deal with the celebration aftermath.

“We have to come by and pick up all that trash,” he said, “and that takes away from employees who can be doing potholes, doing edge repairs or something like that.”

This no small feat, Delacruz said, and it costs taxpayers’ dollars. “We come out here in these big, one-ton trucks with a lot of trash bags and we fill it up,” he said, “and we fill them up so high with trash we have to take multiple trips back to our yard just to get rid of the trash.”

This isn’t just a problem in Texas. It’s a problem everywhere, including here in the Pacific Northwest. As Delacruz tells KCBD, if you are going to set off fireworks, at least have the decency to clean up after yourself. As they say in the Lone Star State, Don’t mess with Texas. Same goes for everywhere else.

On the other hand, if you choose not to buy and set off fireworks, you won’t have to worry about scrounging around in the dark trying to scoop up casings.

Fireworks are environmentally destructive

Along those same lines, here’s a bonus reason not to go out and set off fireworks: they’re harmful to the environment. They cause air pollution:

Environmentally, fireworks are a disaster. The smoke consists of fine toxic dusts, a particulate matter that enters the lungs, threatening those with asthma or multiple chemical sensitivity. They can also contain a mixture of sulfur-coal compounds, traces of heavy metals, and other toxic chemicals or gases. The combustion cloud can contain ozone, sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide. Smoke from consumer fireworks is released at ground level, making inhalation more likely than with professional displays. Fireworks produce greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and ozone.

And water pollution:

Fireworks are often shot over bodies of water, in the case of Bellingham, into the bay or parts of Lake Whatcom, the drinking water source for the city. Spent sparklers, matches and trash are tossed into the water after use. Before the ban one could see fireworks going off all around Bellingham Bay, landing in the water.

In the morning beaches were littered with debris. Residents on Lake Whatcom shoot them off their docks. With parts of the lake outside city limits, a countywide ban on fireworks may be the only way to completely stop it.

And fireworks can also be a hazard to birds.

So there you have it: Five good reasons to leave the fireworks to the professionals this Fourth of July. Have a great Independence Day, and stay safe!

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