If you live around here you probably went to celebrate Labor Day with our annual, epic, scintillating fireworks show: Boomsday.
Boomsday is the largest Labor Day fireworks show in America, and you can bet Knoxville takes great pride in it. This was my very first Boomsday and honestly I didn’t know what to expect! It was sprinkling, but we trekked down to the riverside to watch the fireworks shot off the railroad bridge. As soon as the show began, a huge waterfall of sparks rained down from the bridge (an effect I found out later is usually at the end of the show… oops). While everyone else was mesmerized by the fireworks rising into the sky, my initial thought was… those fireworks are dropping straight into the river. That is probably sign #471 that you are a student in a class focusing on sustainability. Not only were sparks flying into the river, but a huge cloud formed over the crowd, and who knows what sorts of chemicals were floating through the air.
When I got home from Boomsday (which was spectacular, I must say), I started googling the environmental effects of fireworks. Seems to me like fireworks are so much a part of our culture, that they haven’t been brought up as an environmental issue.
One article I found broke down fireworks by chemical, explaining the possibly toxic effects of each. For example, Cadmium (which can produce a wide variety of colors) can infect waterways and travel up the food chain, causing lung, kidney, and stomach problems. Barium (produces green fireworks) is classified as “Extremely Poisonous” and can cause radiation levels to rise. For a full write up on many of the chemicals involved in fireworks, see this article. Some chemicals can cause disease in humans, and others can disrupt the delicate balance in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
I doubt Boomsday will cause a massive breakout of cancer or skin disease, but we should certainly think about how our highly-flown, booming traditions are affecting the world we inhabit.