Should You Skip Fireworks This 4th?

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Independence Day fireworks are an American tradition, but all those explosions leave behind far more than an air of celebration.

Pyrotechnics typically contain health-damaging pollutants such as perchlorate to quickly burn fuel, heavy metals (barium, copper, lithium) to produce glittering colors, and sulfur-coal-laced powder charges that send fireworks aloft in the first place.

Studies show that following a big fireworks display, contaminating chemical levels spike in nearby air and water – up to 1,000 times the norm in the case of percholate, according to a 2007 study by the EPA.

Alternatives to conventional fireworks are few – and they’re still far from eco-friendly. Researchers have developed new pyrotechnics that replace percholate and some metals with nitrogen-based materials that produce fewer toxins and less smoke, but they are largely unavailable to the public and may be too expensive for most institutional users.

So how can you celebrate big on July 4?

  • Enjoy other people’s explosions. At minimum, avoid purchasing fireworks of your own and if you’re keen to watch a big neighborhood or city display, position yourself upwind.
  • Decorate. Channel your red, white and blue with bunting or streamers; plant your lawn or window boxes with flags. When’s the last time you actually showed some patriotism on this holiday?
  • Light a fire. Campfires or, in an urban area, fire pits, are festive ways to enjoy the night sky without heating up a bunch of toxic chemicals.

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