Rockets’ Red Glare, Bombs Bursting in Air

Fireworks hurting a kid's ears

Fireworks hurting a child's ears
Next week we celebrate our 243rd anniversary of independence from Great Britain. A few weeks earlier, we celebrated Memorial Day, where we honored men and women who had made the ultimate sacrifice. I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but over the years I have come to dread these and other holidays, and I can explain my disdain in one word: Fireworks.

Despite what we see in old movies, war is not glamorous. It is not glorious, and it is almost never necessary. And so there’s a morbid kind of irony about the fact that we honor those who died in war, by firing off a barrage of mortars and rockets designed to recreate the violent sounds of war.

In my neck of the woods, fireworks are shot off by neighbors in their back yards, and by so-called professionals who are hired by the city to punctuate community gatherings. During a previous Independence Day fete, the combination of private and municipal rocket fire caused the windows of our house to vibrate, and the constant barrage of scud-like missile activity also caused our rescue dogs to shake uncontrollably, and become so upset that they suffered with GI difficulties for two weeks. Meanwhile, the noise disrupted bed rest at area nursing homes and retirement complexes, and wildlife fled from their limited wooded habitats, and ran nervously into on-going traffic, where at least one deer met his doom. These are all too common scenarios across the country, and are of particular interest to Chapel Hill-based Noise Free America.

NFA acts as a clearinghouse for noise complaints, and as an advocate for a ban on fireworks altogether. In a 2014 email exchange with NFA Director Ted Rueter, I learned that noise wasn’t the only problem resulting from our annual Independence Day fireworks displays. Serious injuries and deaths also occurr. That year, those included three small children and an infant who died in a Philadelphia house fire, which had started when a firecracker was thrown onto a sofa on their front porch. And then there was the man from Michigan who lit some fireworks which then flew back into his chest, killing him. Ted also mentioned another man who blew his arm off while using fireworks. It’s no wonder that Rueter referred to the 4th of July as a “deadly and very disruptive holiday”.

Unfortunately, fireworks related tragedies are not a recent phenomena. In 2017, the National Fire Protection Association reported that over 18,000 fires were caused by fireworks. Those included 1,300 total structure fires, 300 vehicle fires, and 17,000 other fires. That year, fireworks caused over $43 million dollars in property damage, and at least eight people died. Not surprisingly, more fires are reported on the 4th of July than on any other day of the year, and fireworks account for half of those fires.

According to a 2016 report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, hospital emergency departments treated nearly 12,000 people for fireworks related injuries, including 26% who were children under the age of 15, and 40% who were under the age of 20.

And, as if we didn’t have enough to worry about, now there’s a new kind of danger involving fireworks. In 2017, Forbes reported a rise in people flying their drones in the airspace just above fireworks displays. When rockets collide with drones, the latter can cause the former to detonate off target, and can force hazardous debris down onto unsuspecting spectators.

In addition to producing noise and causing fires and injuries, fireworks are also increasingly causing environmental damage. As cited by a May, 2019 article in ThoughtCo., studies by the EPA show that chemical residue from fireworks is polluting lakes, ponds, and even contaminating ground water. That, in turn, negatively impacts on the health of humans and wildlife alike.

Because of noise, air, and water pollution, commercial as well as consumer fireworks displays should be banned, with the caveat that localities can issue special permits for venues that aren’t near a residential area, don’t border on a body of water, and where qualified technicians use non hazardous materials.

Let’s face it, nothing particularly patriotic or even appropriate about shooting off fireworks in celebration of Independence Day, Veterans Day, or Memorial Day. Surely we don’t need to be bombarded with the sounds of war when pausing to recognize our freedoms or the sacrifices of our veterans. A simple parade, display of American flags, a brass band, and some small sparklers are more than adequate to present a safer, quieter commemoration. I just can’t imagine that anyone who died in battle would feel good about the injury, death, and damage caused by fireworks on his behalf. That kind of senseless loss only serves to dishonor those we seek to honor.

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