While it is safe to say the majority of Americans try our best in protecting wildlife, our environment, and our companion animals on a daily basis, many of us turn a blind eye–consciously or perhaps unconsciously– to the ravaging effects of fireworks during July 4th festivities.
An Independence Day fireworks display has become as traditional as apple pie. Bright and booming pyrotechnics are an integral part of any major holiday celebration in countries all over the world. However, if we were to stop and ponder the awful aftermath that these seemingly harmless airborne chemicals leave in their wake, we would certainly find alternative ways to celebrate.
It is no surprise that loud explosions are terrifying for animals. For example, according to a report from Animal Ethics, 50% of dogs have significant anxiety from fireworks, and nearly 80% of horses experience anxiety due to the sounds fireworks make. These animals, whose senses are far more acute than ours, do not understand why the sounds are happening or that they are safe from harm. In many cases, these animals exhibit severe symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which could lead to a lifetime of anxiety problems.
Scraps of used fireworks are often left on the side of roadways, available to stray cats and other wildlife who think they are food. Water surrounding these areas become polluted with the toxins, causing animals to be poisoned after drinking.
Birds can literally be frightened to death by the sound of fireworks. After New Years Eve fireworks celebrations, five thousand red-winged blackbirds fell from the sky in Arkansas. Some species of birds become so frightened by the booms that they will fly away from their nests in a panic and they are not able to find their way back home, leaving their babies to starve or be taken by predators.
Aside from the debris and litter that fireworks leave behind, air pollution is a major concern after fireworks displays. The vibrant bursts of color from these pyrotechnic shows are a combination of toxic chemicals reacting with oxygen. Once the chemical reaction is complete, these heavy metals–such as lithium, copper, barium, and strontium, to name a few–hover in aerosol clouds that later wash down with rainfall into oceans, streams, and reservoirs. This inevitably leads to the poisoning of plants and animals that rely on these areas’ watersheds for survival.
As the truth about the harmful effects of traditional fireworks continue to seep into mainstream media, communities are beginning to find safer alternatives. For instance, the local government of Collecchio, Italy, ruled that all fireworks displays held in their town must be done with “quiet fireworks.” These fireworks have a fraction of the noise level of traditional fireworks and still put on a breathtaking show. Other venues have put on laser light shows in lieu of fireworks, greatly reducing the risk of noise and air pollution.
Even still, taking the family for a hike through one of our nation’s beautiful national parks or camping in the backyard and gazing up at the stars are great ways to enjoy all that nature has to offer without doing irreparable damage to its wildlife, skies, forests, and streams.