The Prettiest Pollutants

For many Americans, the 4th of July wouldn't be complete without fireworks. Macy's puts on a huge spectacle in New York City—they proudly proclaim their use of "55 times more fireworks than the average show in the United States"—and in any big city or small town you can find someone who will proudly tell you that their firework display is among the best in the nation. Unfortunately for those of us who love the pretty lights in the sky, fireworks are often propelled by gunpowder, and the accelerants and heavy metals used for coloration can leave traces in the air and water for days or even weeks after the party is over. The effects are worsened by muggy summer weather and its accompanying poor air quality. All is not lost, however: pyrotechnics experts at the Walt Disney Company announced in 2004 that they had devised a fireworks firing mechanism based on compressed air, which is safer, quieter, and much less polluting than black powder. (At the time, plans were afoot to donate the patents to a non-profit company so that they could be licensed around the world; no further information seems to be available on whether this actually happened.) It's a little late for this year, but if there are fireworks displays in your town, remind the pyrotechnicians and local officials about the Clean Air Act and the laws in your state, and suggest a shift to compressed air technology and investigation into non-heavy-metal colorants for 2007. In the meantime, asthmatics and others with respiratory concerns should wear masks to protect from the worst of the smoke and particulate matter. ::APA Directory of State Fireworks Laws and ::Walt Disney Company press release via ::Earthtalk on