Thrills and Chills – Fireworks on Our Lakes

Excerpted from “Lake Tides, a Univ. of Wisconsin publication

“It was a black and sultry night. Not a breath of air was stirring. The lakes surface was as flat as glass. The first starburst lit up the sky in a wild and sizzling display of crimson and white. The water mirrored an exact duplicate, doubling the visual thrill… The Independence Day celebration had begun.”

How do you remember the Fourth of July at the lake? Barbeques, sparklers, boat parades around the lake? What about the day after when the nasty procession of scorched cardboard and plastic remains wash up on the lakeshore, not to mention how the noise affected the loons!

Fireworks are a big business in the USA. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the value of fireworks imported from China in 2003 was 163.1 million dollars. 220.8 million pounds of fireworks. Fireworks consist of a wide variety of products with a highly variable composition. Although the available safety and environmental effect data on fireworks are often incomplete, issues with fireworks usually fall into the categories of noise, accidents, property damage and pollution.

Noise: The sounds of fireworks going off around the lake seems to start in late June and continue all summer. The noise can terrify pets, young children and wild animals alike.

Accidents and Property Damage: Sparklers burn at temperatures of over 1800 degrees. On average about 9000 people are injured severely enough by fireworks to require hospital treatment. Forty-five percent of those injured are under the age of 15. Annually fireworks cause over 30,000 fires nationwide, resulting in millions of dollars in property damage.

Pollution: Some researchers believe that heavy metal fallout from exploding fireworks poses a threat to the environment and to us. The solid reaction products that give us the pretty colors and special effects include a nasty bunch of chemical additives. The unknown factor is the concentration needed to cause a problem. Black Powder, used to propel the fireworks contains carcinogenic sulfur and coal products. Ammonium Perchlorate causes problems with the human thyroid gland. White Phosphorus is another toxic substance used in fireworks. Its residue can persist in aquatic environments and has caused die-offs in fish and waterfowl. Fireworks also contain a number of toxic metals that are used to create a range of colors. Strontium, copper, magnesium, titanium, sodium, aluminum, mercury zinc, lead , chromium, cadmium, potassium and rubidium to name a few.

Like so many activities that we enjoy, watching fireworks comes at a price. Some such as the noise and cardboard waste are immediate and visible. Others such as the carcinogenic chemicals let loose to contribute to the pollution of our soil, water, and air are not visible and not thought about. Celebrating Independence Day can be more enjoyable for everyone if we are all respectful of our neighbors and wildlife, cautious in how we use fireworks and concerned with the potential that they may have.

The red flares that we use for our “Flare Up” will contribute several pounds of waste directly into the lake if we allow the ash to fall into the water. If you use them please catch the ash in an aluminum pan and dispose of it somewhere other than in the lake.