Spent fireworks
Mitchell Lauren-Ring: Fountains, tanks, cannons and various artillery litter our driveway after we finished. (Photo reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

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!

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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