We hear it over and over again, (those of us who are interested in the relationship between neurological health issues and heavy metal exposure), but how many people know that FIREWORKS cause the sky to rain heavy metals?
Yesterday, after biking, swimming, and cooking, my husband Tom and I decided to lay low and watch the Macy’s Firework’s show on T.V. The show was an incredible pyrotechnic spectacle, lighting up the New York (East River) skyline with more than 60,000 shells launched from five barges positioned midtown, and was accompanied by the West Point Band.
As we were watching the display, the sky grew cloudier and cloudier, until it looked almost as if bombs had gone off on the area. At times, some of the fireworks were obscured by the thickening plume of smoke. I said to my husband: “I wonder what kinds of pollutants are contained within that smoke, and what impact they might have on the health of people and the environment, in the days following the fireworks event?”
What I discovered, after doing a bit of research, is that, the smoke from fireworks is rich in tiny METAL particles. It’s these metals, I learned, that lend the fireworks their explosive colors. The color blue is reported to come from copper, and red, comes from strontium or lithium. Green and white colors are said to be derived from barium compounds.
In addition to the metals that fireworks spray into the sky, the smoke they produce is said to contain toxins. The elements used to propel fireworks into the air, include magnesium (metal ions), potassium, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and aluminum compounds.
Perchlorates (which are like the toxic chemicals used in dry cleaning), are also used as firework propellants. They are sourced from a group of extremely reactive chlorine and oxygen compounds, which have been used by NASA to send rockets into space!
Needless to say, fireworks can lead to major air pollution problems. In fact, there are well documented examples from cites around the world. For example, in Spain, metal particle pollution from Girona’s Sant Joan fireworks spectacle can linger in the city for days. Across India’s cities, the annual Diwali fireworks cause pollution that is said to be way worse than Beijing on a bad day!
Of course, what goes up into the sky, eventually finds its way back down. The unburnt propellants and color compounds in our local fireworks displays deposit on the ground, or they find their way into our rivers, lakes and streams. Unfortunately, percolate residues in the environment have been linked in studies, to thyroid problems, causing limits to be set for drinking water in some US states.
How do we reduce the effect of heavy metals from fireworks? The experts say we should position ourselves “upwind” of fireworks exhibitions to reduce the smog impact. They also say we should avoid lighting sparklers in enclosed areas.
I say, we should be adding foods to our diets that are known to help detoxify heavy metals from the body, such as Chlorella and dulse (seaweed) flakes. We should also be supplementing our diets with liquid zeolite, which is an excellent metal detoxifier.
In the end, the best way to handle the problem of fireworks pollution is to not have them at all. But, I’m pretty sure this would make a lot of people (especially kids) very unhappy. What if, instead, we built some state of the art drive-in style movie screens which could deliver laser-light shows? Here in Minnesota, we have a dome stadium that could also be used for a digitally choreographed fireworks display. With, a music feature added, what could be so bad?!
Kids and teens might even like to produce their own digital fireworks show, and invite the neighbors over for some big screen time in the backyard?! Would it be worthwhile to plant this seed idea into the minds of some kids you know?
Young adults might also consider taking on a more proactive role to end fireworks pollution. They can write a letter of concern to the mayor, or present an ed. meeting at city hall. Just remember: It takes only ONE person sometimes, to start a movement that invites lasting change!
Candia Lea Cole
Founder, Eco-Learning Legacies