Oh No Mommy! Will the Greenies Take Fireworks Away From Us?


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Obligatory Post About Green Fireworks for the 4th of July

Fireworks are fun - who doesn't like explosions? - and a good excuse to get together with family and friends, but they're also not very clean. In Beijing, China, the smoke from fireworks during the new year celebrations tripled pollution levels overnight, and the toxic metals used to get the bright colorful sparks fall back to Earth, contaminating soil and water. Is there something we can do without losing the fireworks?


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That's a Lot of Fireworks!

But first, some stats. A couple years ago Lloyd had a post with some stats about July 4th fireworks. The numbers are impressive: "Amount of fireworks sold to individuals for personal celebrations in 2006: 252 million pounds [up from 102 million pounds in 2000)]. Amount of fireworks sold to cities and municipalities for public celebrations last year: 25 million pounds." So we're not talking small quantities...


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Discovery News writes:

While particle-filled smoke may be the most obvious concern, it's not the only issue -- or even the worst one. Some of the metals that make fireworks colorful may also be poisonous when heated. For example, antimony, which is sometimes used to produce the color white, can harm the lungs, heart, stomach and other organs.

Barium, which provides a green hue, "does something really nasty to your insides and gastrointestinal tract," said Michael Hiskey, an explosive chemist at DMD Systems, a pyrotechnic research and development company. Barium can also be toxic to the heart.

Then there are perchlorates -- oxygen-rich molecules that allow the fuel in fireworks to burn. Perchlorates appear in nuclear missiles, flares and rocket fuel for spacecraft. So far, the Environmental Protection Agency has not set an upper limit for perchlorates in soil or water, even though the chemicals have been detected in drinking water in most states, as well as in breast milk and in store-bought cow's milk.

Jeremy wrote about perchlorates contamination: "Perchlorate is well-known to pose risks for both human health and wildlife [...] Their results indicated that within 14 hours of the [fireworks] displays, the background levels of perchlorate increased sharply 24-1028 times and typically peaked at 1 day, after which they slowly degraded until they reached normal levels within 20 to 80 days."


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Green(er) Fireworks

So while fireworks are not at the top of the list of environmental problems, it's still good to know that eco-fireworks are coming to market (especially for people living close or downwind from big firework displays). The main improvement is replacing carbon-based fuels with nitrogen-based ones, so that perchlorates become unnecessary. This has the welcome side-effect of reducing the amount of smoke produced, which means that 10x less barium needs to be used. There are also the air-launch fireworks (Greentopia wrote about them) which don't use gunpowder to get the explosive charge into the air.

Sounds like win-win, but the problem is the price. Eco-Fireworks are more expensive, and because of that, they are mostly used in places where there are very frequent shows (like Disneyland), or for indoor pyrotechnics shows.

Less is More

The greenest firework is no firework, that's obvious. But looking at the stats above, the general trend is obvious. As an individual, what you can do is decide not to purchase fireworks. It is far better to have 100 people watching a single firework display than to have 10 groups of 10 people watching 10 displays, so gather with friends and family and neighbors and make it count!

If you can't give up the fireworks, at least make sure that the rest of your 4th of July celebration is as clean as possible.

Tips for Greening Your 4th of July
Let's Declare This July Fourth Interdependence Day!
Join the Patriots of the Green Revolution
How to Go Green: Barbeques

Tags: Air Pollution | Green Stats | Less Is More