4th of July is near! The Office of Sustainability would like to remind our students and staff about the environmental impacts of 4th of July festivities. This year fireworks are expected to exceed $675 million in total sales.
Fireworks release dangerous toxins into soil and water; scientists are only beginning to find out the health consequences of these chemicals on human health. Studies have shown perchlorate levels in nearby soil and waterways and wells rose dramatically after the 4th. Fireworks are often made with excessive amounts of cardboard, paper, and plastics which often aren’t disposed of properly.
Fueling the flight of fireworks, gunpowder and metallic compounds create the stunning colorful displays we enjoy each Independence Day. These compounds pose significant health hazards to animals and humans alike, as most contain carcinogenic or hormone-disrupting substances that seep into soil and flow into water streams.
In an excerpt from his article on Mother Nature Network, an environmental website, Russell McLendon explained the environmental impacts of different firework colors:
In addition to gunpowder, fireworks are packed with heavy metals and other toxins that produce their sparkling shower of colors. Like perchlorates, the exact effect of fireworks’ heavy-metal fallout is still mainly a mystery, but scientists do know that the metals themselves can wreak havoc in the human body:
- Strontium (red): This soft, silvery-yellow metal turns red when it burns, is extremely reactive with both air and water, and can be radioactive. Some strontium compounds dissolve in water, and others move deep into soil and groundwater; radioactive strontium has a half-life of 29 years. While low levels of stable and radioactive strontium haven’t been shown to affect human health, they both can be dangerous at high doses.
- Aluminum(white): Since aluminum is the most abundant metal in Earth’s crust — and one of humanity’s most widely used — avoiding exposure is almost impossible. Virtually all food, water, air and soil contain some amount of aluminum — the average adult eats about 7 to 9 milligrams of the silvery-white metal every day in food. It’s generally safe at these levels, but it can affect the brain and lungs at higher concentrations.
- Copper(blue): Fireworks’ blue hues are produced by copper compounds. These aren’t very toxic on their own, but the copper jump-starts the formation of dioxins when perchlorates in the fireworks burn…. The most noted health effect of dioxin exposure is chloracne, a severe skin disease with acne-like lesions mostly on the face and upper body. Dioxin doesn’t stop there, though — the World Health Organization has identified it as a human carcinogen, and it’s also been shown to disrupt hormone production and glucose metabolism.
- Barium(green): Fish and other aquatic organisms can accumulate barium, which means it can move up the food chain. The silvery-white metal naturally bonds with other elements to form a variety of compounds that all have different effects — none are known to be carcinogenic, but they can cause gastrointestinal problems and muscular weakness when exposure exceeds EPA drinking water standards.
- Rubidium (purple): This soft, silvery metal is one of the most abundant elements on Earth. It burns purple, melts to a liquid at 104 degrees Fahrenheit and is highly reactive with water, capable of igniting fires even far below the freezing point. It hasn’t been reported to cause any major environmental damage, but it can cause skin irritation since it’s so reactive with moisture, and it’s moderately toxic when ingested, reportedly able to replace calcium in bones (PDF).
- Cadmium(various): Used to produce a wide range of fireworks colors, this mineral is also a known human carcinogen. Breathing high levels of cadmium can seriously damage the lungs, and consuming it can fluster the stomach, often resulting in vomiting and diarrhea.
Aside from the dangerous toxins spread through the fireworks, 4th of July is one of the year’s biggest waste creators. Consider some of these ideas for simple ways to reduce your footprint at these years’ festivities without sacrificing an ounce of fun!
1. Go Meatless for the Day
Nothing says 4th of July like a backyard barbecue but the global meat industry has put a terrible strain on the planet. So this year, why not ditch the pork chops and steaks and consider some delicious vegetarian grilling recipes instead. Although ditching the meat might seem akin to sacrilege, there are so many more creative dishes available that are good for your health and the planet.
2. Use Real Plates
When you have 15 guests coming around, it’s so easy to break out the paper plates to avoid a sink full of dishes, but imagine the waste if every American went this route. This year, if washing your own dishes in a water-saving dishwasher doesn’t sound appealing, it is now possible to purchase biodegradable packaging that won’t clog up in the land fill.
3. Use Public Transportation
Using public transportation or even cycling instead of driving your own car has more than one benefit: not only will you reduce your carbon footprint for the day, but you won’t have to drive home after drinking or a tired night!
4. Buy Kegs/Liter Sodas Instead of Cans & Bottles
Instead of buying a stack of cans and bottles that use up a lot of unnecessary materials, consider purchasing a keg instead. This is cheaper, usually, and you’ll have zero waste – especially if you use your own mugs or compostable Ingeo corn cups. Avoid bottled water and soda to reduce waste, and buy soda in bulk!
By taking these tips into account this 4th of July, you are helping to reduce our strain on our planets ecological systems and are creating a better environment for future generations!
Last Updated June 30, 2015