Fireworks, the Environment and the Fourth

I know what you’re already thinking: I’m here to ruin your Fourth of July celebration. Not so, fair reader. You know I’m the nice one (my cohorts never let us forget it) and the nice one doesn’t set out to ruin things for you … other than cheeseburgers. There’s really no way I’d ruin your Independence Day festivities. I love the holiday. Not only do we get to celebrate our independence, we also get to blow stuff up. Because ‘Murica.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has asked the question, though:

Are Fireworks Bad for the Environment?

It’s a valid question, and one that pops up just about every year. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t clear. The basic components of a firework include stuff you blow up, stuff that speeds up the explosion and stuff that holds all that other stuff inside to shape the firework.

The stuff you blow up is basically gunpowder. A mixture of charcoal and sulfur fuel is just waiting for perchlorates to accelerate oxygen to the heart of the firework so it can go “boom.” Traditional fireworks actually used gunpowder, which includes potassium nitrate that acts as an accelerator. It turns out that gunpowder is unstable, leading to (you guessed it) explosive situations. So instead, manufacturers use perchlorates in place of potassium nitrate because it’s safer that way.

These perchlorates are made from various chlorine chemicals that are bonded to oxygen atoms. The bond between the two substances makes for a quicker burn when the wick is lit, leading to a rocketing explosion. Chlorine is one of those dangerous substances that we’re always warned about, and in high concentrations, perchlorates can cause hypothyroidism. However, those amounts aren’t used in fireworks, and fireworks have never been linked to human health concerns.

Independence Day firework display

If you want to make your Independence Day celebrations more eco-friendly, go with small fireworks like sparklers.

Having an Eco-Friendly Fourth

That’s right; fireworks have never been directly linked to adverse health effects in humans. Additionally, there’s little evidence that these chemicals remain in the environment for an extended period after a fireworks show. Evidence shows that most of it burns right up in an explosion. But, if you have asthma or allergies, you may want to forego the fireworks show because that’s a lot of smoke.

If you want to make your Independence Day celebrations more eco-friendly, go with small fireworks like sparklers. Always clean up after your party, because part of the environmental impact of fireworks is the waste and debris leftover after a get together. To really reduce your ecological impact on the Fourth, forego fireworks altogether and plan a picnic or party. That is, if you can handle not blowing stuff up on a nationally sanctioned day of explosives.

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  1. Thanks for addressing this topic. However, you make no mention of the impact of fireworks on wild animals or pets. Nor any mention of the serious potential for brush and other types of fires. These are valid environmental concerns when fireworks are used.

    1. Hi,
      I live on Revere Beach and I can tell you, that I see remnants of fireworks washed up on the shores of the beach. I’m sure that the fish are eating the remains of the fireworks paper!

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