Pretty Going Up, Toxic Coming Down

Are Fireworks the Best Way to Celebrate? Fireworks are a tradition that have become synonymous with such events as New Year’s Day, National birthdays, special long weekends like the Victoria Day Weekend or the Labour Day Weekend, football halftime shows, concerts and festivals. Their loud bangs and colourful displays are exciting and draw huge crowds. We all know that fireworks are dangerous. But that’s okay; accidents can be prevented by making sure we are careful to follow sensible safety rules. How many of us, though, are aware of the insidious danger to our health and environment? Are there any sensible safety rules about that? The problem begins with all the chemicals that produce those spectacular displays of colour. Perchlorate salts (Lithium, sodium, copper and barium salts) as well as calcium and strontium are used to create the colours we see when they are heated to the correct temperature.

  1. When fireworks are exploded the perchlorate salts fall to the ground and are washed into lakes and rivers where they dissolve easily. They can remain in the water and in the soil for a very long time where they are absorbed by plants that wildlife eat and eventually end up in our food, too. Perchlorate salts can cause hypothyroidism which, in turn, affects many of our internal organs.
  2. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. The perchlorate salts in those fireworks do not burn up and many end up as poisonous aerosols in the air. When inhaled they can cause many health problems including vomiting, diarrhea, kidney disease, asthma attacks, cardiovascular issues and various cancers. A burst of ozone from fireworks can create a gas that seriously irritates the lungs.
  3. Can one fireworks display be a serious problem? Well, yes. Within an hour of a fireworks show there is a significant increase of heavy metals in the air. Included in this mix are also fine particulates, nitric acid and sulphur dioxide.
  4. The bangs and whistles of a fireworks show are also a serious problem. They can cause hearing loss and can contribute to fatal injuries to wildlife, birds and pets.

With so much bad news about fireworks perhaps we should be rethinking the use of them. It does seem that we have lost the focus of that special day/event and our thoughts and attention have turned to the nighttime spectacle.

There are other ways to celebrate that are more meaningful and relevant to the occasion. Covid-19 aside, one can host or attend a party with a Canadian theme, hike a Canadian trail or visit a Canadian historical site for Canada Day; run a food drive for the less fortunate in your neighbourhood or help out at a food bank for Thanksgiving; attend a parade for the New Year; wear an appropriate costume to a festival; or perhaps hold a chilly swim fest for the Victoria Day weekend. What you can do is limited only by your imagination and could quickly become a new, meaningful tradition for you and your family.

Article by Caroline Konarzewski – Lake steward, Lake of Bays

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