Celebrations on the 4th of July are synonymous with cookouts, parades, and, of course, fireworks. It’s how America celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, when we proclaimed our independence from Great Britain some 239 years ago. We’re learning that fireworks can have a lot of unintended consequences in addition to all of the “ooh”s and “aah”s. Here are a few of the dangers involved and resources to help make the holiday a happy and safe one.
Mistakes happen to the best of us. Jump over to YouTube and you can find tons of videos of Roman candle fights, out-of-control homemade firework displays, and general insanity with explosives. No matter how innocent a person’s intentions, they can still inadvertently put those around them in danger. In 2013, emergency rooms in the US treated approximately 11,400 people for fireworks related injuries. The majority of injuries were sustained on the hands, fingers, head, face, and ears. Many have opted to forgo the tradition of fireworks because of the dangers involved, but if you just can’t let go of the excitement involved with this holiday, take time to read some tips on the proper use of fireworks.
In general, there are more fires reported in the US on the 4th of July than any other day, and two out of five of those fires are caused by fireworks. With portions of the Western US dealing with a major drought, there is a heightened risk of wildfires. Add illegal fireworks to the mix and you have the potential for serious damage, the consequences of which could be devastating. Be aware of your surroundings, have water available for emergencies, and just be careful.
The loud booms caused by fireworks have proven to alter wildlife patterns and even kill animals. In 2011 in Beebe, Arkansas, illegal fireworks led to the deaths of between 4,000 to 5,000 red-winged blackbirds. Disoriented from the sounds and lights, they crashed into houses and cars, resulting in bruised skulls and blood clots in the brain. In addition, a study in the Netherlands observed massive bird movement when fireworks were lit all over the country on New Year’s Eve. In general, during times of increased fireworks use, wildlife shelters receive an influx in calls involving wildlife on the road and in unusual places. Fireworks drive confused animals into roadways, which can cause animal deaths and vehicle damage and human injury. If you are lighting off those bottle rockets, be aware of the wildlife around you. Sharing the planet peacefully with the wildlife in your area is just as important as sharing the planet with your 4th of July firework fan friends.
With fireworks measuring between 150 to 175 decibels (loud enough to cause hearing damage), it’s no surprise panicked family pets run in any direction to get away from the noise and flashing lights. In kill shelters, this often means unidentified and unclaimed healthy dogs and cats are euthanized once their allotted time is up. For pet parents who take every precaution to keep their animals indoors around this time (which is highly recommended), it’s still awful to see your faithful companion cower every time the loud sound of a firework emanates through the house. If your pets hate the loud sounds of fireworks, there are a number of steps you can take to try and relieve their stress. There are also some precautions to follow to keep your service dog safe and comfortable.
What many of us forget about fireworks is once they explode, they don’t just disintegrate. The pieces that remain fall back down into streets, backyards, and bodies of water, where they often stay for long periods of time. In addition, when fireworks explode, they release carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter like PM2.5. A study in China found that PM2.5 levels were seven times higher after the Chinese New Year celebration as compared to ordinary days. Since PM2.5 can affect both the climate and heart and lung function in humans, this is an alarming finding. There is now a trend in China to decrease the use of fireworks; Beijing’s government has even sent texts to encourage people to cut down on fireworks to improve air quality. Clean up after yourself. Picking up the empty cartridges only takes a few moments. In the long run those moments will add up to a cleaner environment for you and your loved ones to enjoy.
Have you ever wondered how fireworks get their beautiful colors? Unfortunately, the answer can impact our health. Blues are made by copper compounds that are carcinogenic, while greens are the result of barium nitrate which produces smoke that can cause respiratory problems. Reds contain strontium, known to cause bone disorders. Fireworks also contain perchlorate that, if ingested, can be a hormone disrupter. Though one night of fireworks most likely will not affect you (as long as you’re not too close or asthmatic), people who are near frequent fireworks displays have cited concerns. There are other options if the health repercussions are a big concern for you. Laser light shows, glow sticks, noisemakers, LED items, silly string, or just playing music while enjoying company could help alleviate this concern.
Fireworks pose many risks, including pollution, fires, and possible health problems, as well as issues involving wildlife and family pets. It’s also impossible to rule out accidents resulting in injury. But with proper precautions, and just plain common sense, any family should be able to have a fun-filled holiday. After all, what’s a 4th of July celebration without fireworks? If you simply can’t shake the worries of having fireworks at home, consider attending a larger display put on by professionals. They’re less likely to accidentally almost hit you in the face with a Roman candle, like other people.