July 4th: Red, White and Unseen

July 3, 2012

Fireworks are great for celebrating July 4th, but also cause harm to the environmentHave you every wanted to attend a party with half a million people? On Wednesday, July 4, all along the Charles River, you can. This year about 500,000 people, including Boston residents and out-of-towners, will flock to see the annual Boston Pops Firework Spectacular, bringing their spirits and leaving their waste. Though the City of Boston’s Department of Waste Reduction will do their part in channeling the trash where it needs to be, bags or bottles will inevitably be missed. There will also be remnants no one will likely be able to pick up; those of the fireworks.

Fireworks have been a tradition on July Fourth for over 200 years, according to a Public Broadcasting Service webpage. Aside from “oohs” and “aahhhs,” perchlorates, a salt derived from acid, are also byproducts of fireworks and leave residue over land or water, depending on firework origin.

They pose threats to fish and other marine life, as well as humans. Firework displays over water push the allowed, natural concentration of perchlorate in ground and drinking water for certain states; the state regulation for perchlorates in Massachusetts is two micrograms per liter, or parts per billion, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

In May 2011 Assistant Commissioner of the MassDEP Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup Janine Commerford, wrote a memorandum to “firework contractors and interested parties,” with the intention of preventing the contamination of public drinking water from fireworks. Commerford listed remedies to this pollution issue including manufacturing low/no-perchlorate fireworks and proper cleanup of dispensed ones.

Pyro Spectaculars Inc. is this year’s supplier for the Boston show, according to Rich MacDonald, producer of the Boston Pops Firework Spectacular. The American Pyrotechnic Association states that overall firework consumption has increased by about 54 percent from 2000 to 2011. Are there eco-friendly replacements?

Eric Tucker, fireworks show director for Pyro Spectaculars, who is working in Boston on the week of the Fourth, explained that some of the fireworks used in this year’s city display will have perchlorates, and some will not.

“There’s a big push to develop a perchlorate-free composition, and we’ve come a long way in the past five years.” Tucker acknowledged that the problem of perchlorates and impact of fireworks in general is not unknown within his company, and that generating different fireworks is “the right thing to do,” but is a work in progress due to development costs and time consumption.

“We need to make sure it’s [new firework models] not worse than the problem we’re trying to solve,” he said. Tucker finds the push for more eco-friendly fireworks a positive one despite the challenges, such as preserving the craft and art of firework displays, which come with it. “A lot of people are working hard to find solutions.”

If you’re heading out to see fireworks in your community this coming holiday, do your part when it comes to waste. Bring a bag designated for your trash. When returning to your preferred mode of transportation, if you see excess waste lying around, pick that up as well.

Furthermore, explore alternatives to firework celebrations with homemade noisemakers, tossing recycled confetti from old flowers, or creating your own show with flashlights and glow sticks.

– Liz Peters

Photo Credit: Flickr/Merrit Boyd