Environmental Hazards, Science

Independence from Toxins

Fireworks
Fireworks may be pretty, but they’re full of toxins.
Image: jeff_golden via Flickr CC

Who doesn’t love the Fourth of July?  People often get the day off work, eat way too many chips and hotdogs at the BBQ and eagerly await the big fireworks show.  What could possibly be wrong with that?

That part is just fine despite the number it will do on your waistline.  The problems are with the fireworks themselves.  We love their vibrant colors, shapes and smiley faces left hanging in the air.  Yet, all that beauty comes with a price.  Have you ever considered what all that smoke is made of and how it impacts air quality, water and all the frightened animals?

Fireworks are made up of a toxic stew of chemicals.  That’s actually what makes them look so stunning.  Those magnetic blues, greens, pinks and yellows are actually caused by burning metals, some of them possibly radioactive.  These additives “produce colors and help their charcoal and sulfur fuel burn: cadmium, strontium, barium, lithium, lead, perchlorates and sodium nitrate, plus more benign copper and aluminum compounds that can still have knock-on effects,” according to Crosscut.com.

The rhetoric is that the amounts are too small to matter.  However, with all things, they accumulate over time and end up in the water table.  Fish end up ingesting them.  Then we eat the fish.  So, really, it ends up coming back to us in a dangerous loop.

Fourth of July is also a hazardous day for people with asthma.  Fireworks are filled with a plethora of carcinogens and fine particulate manner.  Celebrity meteorologist Cliff Mass says that on the Fourth, levels of fine particulates (the type that wreak havoc on your lungs and heart) rose from a baseline 10 micrograms per cubic meter to 60 mcg/m3 in the Duwamish Valley, an “unhealthy” 120  in Lynnwood, and 275 — “getting close to Beijing levels” — on the Tacoma flats in Washington state.

Yikes!  So, what do we do about it?  Stop all the fireworks?  Not likely.  It’s time for all you scientists to get crackin’ trying to figure out a more environmentally friendly brand of fireworks. We still want it to pack a punch, just not at the expense of our lungs and earth.

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