Douse Fireworks; Embrace Laser Light Shows – by Deborah Levine

Originally published by the Chattanooga Times Free Press

The July 4th fireworks wonderful! We drove around the neighborhood to check out what’s happening. Folks down the street have been doing a family light-up every night over the weekend. And then was there’s Camp Winnie, one of my all-time favorites. Best of all, was watching the sky explode over the Tennessee River. Of course, we’re sad for everyone living near Canada where smoke from across the border forced some cities to cancel July 4 fireworks. I was grateful not to have their pollution levels – until I coughed and wheezed driving by a house surrounding us all in smoke from fireworks lit up in the driveway. Mother Earth whispered that our gratitude should come with a grain of salt, or saltpeter.

Did you know that saltpeter, used in food preservatives and fertilizers, also helps launch the fireworks that light up the sky? It also helps launch harmful pollutants often compared to severe wildfire smoke. There’s about a 42 % increase in fine particulate pollutants following July 4 firework displays. The pollution slowly dissipates, but these pollutants are small enough to travel into your lungs and cause respiratory problems. Think what that means when your neighbors are lighting up the sky all weekend.

Breathing in smoke of any kind can damage not only your lungs, but also your heart and brain. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that fireworks contain uniquely toxic particles that include a mix of metals, which produce the colors in the “rockets red glare”. They also contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are chemicals found in gasoline known to cause cancer in high concentrations.

Yet, we spend more than $2 billion on fireworks yearly while choosing to ignore that most fireworks are imported from China. But we shouldn’t ignore that July 4 is the year’s most polluted day for many, with fireworks causing water pollution, sparking wildfires and contaminating the air. And don’t forget the 10,000 firework injuries that ending up in emergency rooms last year.

And it’s not just the city’s fireworks that we need to consider. According to an environmental scientist at the U. Of California at Irvine, those fireworks ignited in people’s backyards and on streets are big contributors to the air pollution. When communities have policies restricting street level fireworks, they have substantially less pollution.

As firework’s environmental impacts becomes harder to ignore, we know that climate change will only make the heat, pollution, and wildfires worse. So some cities are looking for alternative ways to celebrate July 4. Wow…Is that even possible?

Cities going to flash, instead of flare, are using technology to light up the skies. Drones can make the usual pyrotechnics seem pale in comparison as they form shapes like splashing whales and dancing robots. Laser light shows are becoming popular. The crowd massed around the Miller Park laser show on July 4 is proof of the growing fan base.

So I was surprised by an email from a group called “Undercover Mother” saying, “…if your child remarks how we should cease fireworks shows because they damage the environment, remember what we’re fighting for. This is a fight against the all-encompassing disease of Marxism…”

Fortunately, it’s not just the kids rethinking fireworks. This mother and grandmother, not to mention Mother Earth, are also reconsidering. And we know that it’s not Marxism to want  cleaner drinking water, fewer forest fires, less firework injuries in the ER, fewer dollars spent on imports from China, and more protection from Chattanooga’s current high rate of bronchitis.

Join us in rethinking. There may be mixed reaction from the community, but lasers and drones could be a great source of wonder for the future.


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