4th of July fireworks—bright, brilliant and as American as baseball and apple pie. Unfortunately, while millions of people “ooh and ahh” over exhilarating holiday fireworks shows, the reaction from our water sources is much more of a resounding “ouch!” The environmental pain comes from three sources: fallen debris, chemicals used to propel and explode the fireworks, and metals used to produce all of those beautiful colors.
Just how many fireworks are at work for the holiday? Americans spend $1 billion on 4th of July fireworks annually—which equates to 268 million pounds of fireworks ignited every year. Regardless of whether you prefer epic shows like the ones in New York, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia or just a few launches on a private beach, your Independence Day entertainment contributes to an explosive, troubling whole. Every one of them starts with a paper or plastic shell that contains the explosives. Once the explosion happens, every shell falls to the ground or, worse yet, into the body of water over which the fireworks were displayed. We’ve all witnessed the debris on a July 5th morning—in backyards, on the beach, littered on sidewalks. Even if the debris doesn’t fall directly into a water source, a great deal of it will be washed away into storm drains and end up in water systems.
Let’s think back to our high school chem lab. Remember being challenged to determine what an unknown substance was based on its color when it burned? Bingo! Many of those same metals are packed into fireworks to give them their brilliant colors. The problem is, these metals end up in the water supply, and they aren’t all that friendly to humans, animals and flora, especially in high doses. There are strontium red, copper blue, barium green and a host of others, all of which can do damage and end up in our water and/or make their way up the food chain.
The good news is, thanks to modern science and technology, there are more fireworks alternatives than ever for your Independence Day celebration. Instead of the traditional pyrotechnics, consider a laser show, a projection screen with fireworks videos from the internet, Galaxy Shooters, helium balloons with LED lights, glow-in-the-dark bubbles, glow sticks dropped from your drones or the good-old standby: handheld sparklers (properly disposed of after use!). If you’re more of the crafty type, check out additional ideas here. And if none of these do it for you, be patient and plan a trip to Disneyland or Disney World in the not-too-distant future. The company is working on new technology that channels compressed air instead of gunpowder to launch its fireworks.
It goes without saying that a company named American Water is as patriotic as they come! But a huge part of our American pride comes in protecting our land, our people and our future. So, whatever your pyrotechnic preference, make an effort this 4th of July to make your patriotism pop in a way that is more environmentally safe.