Anatomy of Environmental Impact
A firework is a low explosive pyrotechnic used for entertainment such at firework displays and holiday celebrations (4th of July, New Years, etc). Brilliant in color and explosively loud fireworks bring smiles and joy to people all over the world, but as beautiful as they are to watch there is some concern that fireworks may be dangerous to our health and to our environment.
Fireworks contain a mixture of “oxidizers, propellants, fuels, binders, and coloring agents.” This residue must eventually come down.
Aside from the undisputable litter left worldwide in the firework aftermath there is also some concern about the chemicals fireworks contain and how they may contribute to water contamination. According to a study conducted in the surface waters of a small lake in Ada, Okla by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Richard T. Wilkin perchlorate levels rose in the water after an annual 4th of July celebration. “Within 14 hours of the pyrotechnic display, the perchlorate level in the lake spiked as high as 1,000 times its baseline value. The researchers found that it took anywhere from 20 to 80 days for the perchlorate level to come down to its background level” (Environment Science Technology 2007 ).
Potassium perchlorate is a strong oxidizer, used to speed up the fuel-burning process in fireworks and it has been linked to thyroid damage. “Studies suggest that it inhibits the thyroid’s ability to take up iodine from the bloodstream and can reduce the production of thyroid hormone. And because the anion is highly water soluble, it readily slips into groundwater” (Pyrotechnics For The Planet ).
The good news is that there may be an environmentally friendlier alternative coming soon. Researchers have “developed new pyrotechnic formulas that replace perchlorate with nitrogen-rich materials or nitrocellulose that burn cleaner and produce less smoke”. This is only the first step too. They plan to improve the use of coloring agents too. So far they’ve had some success with red single flares.
What’s the biggest challenge to this process? Developing the eco-fireworks so that they are made affordable to buy. Doesn’t that seem to be the number one problem with most eco-friendly innovations trying to make into the market? Initially it does, but the savings on environmental cleanup and doctor bills should make it worth the cost. What do you think?
For more information on perchlorate contamination visit Organic Consumer Association .