Fireworks and bonfires are environmental nightmares!
“Remember Remember, the Fifth of November …”
In the UK it is traditional to mark 05 November with a firework display and bonfire, marking a plot back in 1605 to blow up parliament!
However, in recognition nowadays of the environmental damage that both of these activities do, it’s time to stop.
Fireworks cause damage, litter, pollution and scare local wildlife (and pets). Smoke from bonfires builds up in our towns and cities; in fact pollution has been known to reach the top level of 10 on the UK air pollution index.
Fireworks do much, much more harm than good. They are an environmental problem because:
- They propel a cocktail of chemicals into the atmosphere, soil and water
- Many of these can harm both people and the environment.
- The vivid colours in firework displays come from metallic compounds such as barium or aluminium
- These have negative impacts on animal and human health
- To produce the oxygen needed for an explosion, many fireworks contain oxidisers known as perchlorates
- These can dissolve in water, contaminating rivers, lakes and drinking water and poisoning wildlife
- The gunpowder that fuels their flight is toxic, including containing carcinogenic substances
- Fireworks scatter smoke and plastic debris
- Perchlorates can limit the human thyroid gland’s ability to take iodine from the bloodstream, resulting in hypothyroidism
- Children, infants and foetuses suffer the worst from hypothyroidism as thyroid hormones are crucial for normal growth
- Particulates get lodged in people’s lungs, an immediate danger for those with asthma in particular
- Air-quality monitors are known to spike for about three hours after a fireworks show
- Fireworks frighten wildlife, livestock and domestic pets (and many children too!)
Fireworks cause long term damage for merely short term pleasure.
Guy Fawkes is often the most polluted evening of the year. Smoke from bonfires (and fireworks) builds up in our towns and cities and has been known to reach the top level of 10 on the UK air pollution index on the night.
Bonfires are often built from old painted and varnished wood, such as furniture, or damp wood from gardens, making them extremely polluting. Painted pallets, fence panels, doors and so on are the worst things to burn, and often people will take the opportunity to add other rubbish.
Bonfires produce up to 30 times more particle pollution (smoke) than burning logs (kilo for kilo) in a stove. The pollution from bonfires closely resembled wildfire smoke, which is being increasingly linked to health problems.
Researchers have found evidence of Bonfire Night celebrations sending soot particles up into the night sky. A study conducted by the University of Leeds monitoring air quality found that soot particle levels were 100 times compared to normal levels. Environmental soot (known as black carbon) has been shown to be harmful to health, with its exact mechanism being a subject of numerous studies over the years. Among the first tissues affected from prolonged exposure is the respiratory epithelium, which serves as the linings in the lungs. Presence of soot in the airways interrupts the respiratory process, with the most common illnesses relating to this exposure being asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Bonfires bring other hazards too:
- release of large amounts of CO2 (greenhouse gas)
- the risk of fire spreading to wildfires
- injuries and deaths
- destruction of wildlife
Like fireworks, bonfires cause long term damage for merely short term pleasure.
Please don’t organise garden or neighbourhood bonfires and firework displays this year, take the opportunity instead, with our new understanding of the damage being done to our atmosphere, health and ecosystems, to draw a line under this very poor practice.
Please boycott organised events too. Write to your local event organisers and ask them to think about the environmental damage being done and, in future years, to not arrange these “celebrations”.
On top of all this, of course, fireworks can be very expensive!
Although this article is written with the fifth of November in mind, it’s worth noting that New Year fireworks, Diwali fireworks, summer firework concerts, and similar events are all just as damaging. Please, if you can, urge organisers to stop burning things in the name of celebration!