It is not a “victimless crime.”
One of our neighbors takes her dog to British Columbia right after Canada Day until after the 4th. Other people drug their pets in order to spare their nerves. My husband and I do that too. We would happily have left the country, but we are afraid to leave our home unattended over the 4th of July. Instead, Gary hooks up the power-washing nozzle on the hose, and we watch the drone filming the action with trepidation. Yesterday morning, an osprey was fishing right in front of the house, and then the pyros arrived on the sand.
Years ago, a person actually trained in fireworks put on a display on our beach. Eventually the crowd of onlookers grew so large that he no longer felt it was safe. Now all the illegal explosives and fireworks are lit by ordinary people bent on having a good time.
It’s not good.
“Each July 4th, thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured while using consumer fireworks. Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks – devastating burns, other injuries, fires, and even death.”
The safest 4th of July on my beach was like last night. We’d had some damp weather so the hedges were not quite tinder. The temperature was mild, the air light and breezy, tending to flow from the east or south rather that onshore. There was a sprinkle of rain. The tide was going out all evening so there was plenty of sand and no need to set off fireworks too close to the hedge. True, some people build fires too close to the hedge anyway, but we found the remains of only one rocket in our yard. That was how it was yesterday night until after 11.
There was the year it rained and people blew up their illegal fireworks every single night for the rest of the summer. There was the still year when the smoke from nearby blasts was so thick we were forced indoors to breathe. There was the year bottle rockets landed, still blazing, on our cedar roof. We replaced that roof, but last year we watched floating lanterns drift over shore. One landed, still glowing, in an old spruce tree.
“Smoke from fireworks is harmful to health, study suggests. Summary: The metallic particles in the smoke emitted by fireworks pose a health risk, particularly to people who suffer from asthma, new research shows. … The different colours and effects produced in these displays are achieved by adding metals to the gunpowder.”
Mostly, the fireworks were gold and green and red this year. Last night it was a particularly loud and lengthy display. Rockets with a diameter of up to 6 inches managed not to light any homes on fire. So you could say it’s been worse, more dangerous, more frightening, the smoke more choking.
And then this morning, one person came out with a wheelbarrow to police the area directly in front of their beach camp. Along the rest of the shore is filth my husband and I will be picking up for the next year.
It is not harmless. Chemicals enter the air and percolate into soil and sand. Seabirds are disoriented, and the impact of the chemical refuse remains. The paper wrappers are impregnated with toxins but will unroll and dissolve. The plastic cones will wash into the rocks where we will gather them in January. And that only counts the stuff we see.
“Although much of the perchlorate present in pyrotechnic devices is transformed into harmless compounds during combustion, any remnants of the chemical that fall back to earth can enter into the soil and water. When ingested, perchlorate is absorbed by the thyroid gland in place of iodine, which can interfere with the production of thyroid hormone, an essential part of metabolism and mental development. As a result, perchlorate exposure may be particularly harmful to fetuses.
“A recent study of lake water in Ada, Okla., before and after annual fireworks displays found that the perchlorate concentration in the water increased by up to a factor of 1,000 in the hours after the show, exceeding several states’ maximum allowable levels for drinking water. The levels took between 20 and 80 days to return to normal.
“The heavy metals that colorize fireworks can also be dangerous, and unlike perchlorate, they’re not used up during the combustion reaction. ‘What you start with is also what you end up with,’ Chavez explains. ‘They can get aerosolized and breathed in, or they go into the soil and water.’ Particularly harmful is barium, used to produce green; studies suggest it may cause respiratory problems, among other maladies. One study found that barium levels in the air increased 1,000 times after a fireworks-heavy Diwali festival in India.”—Newsweek
To be clear, aside from the danger of injury and fire, research proves that fireworks are hazardous to our health. They are made of dangerous, poisonous chemicals. They not only frighten birds, they poison people. They do not “just go away” because they are blown up. They land on sand and water, they infect the air. The party on our beach is over and people are checking out of rentals and heading back home. They leave behind a mess.
Some beach fires still smolder 18 hours later. That was once a beautiful drift log in the photo below. Beer cans, pop bottles, plastic trash, and the remains of a great many completely illegal explosions. The began yesterday afternoon with a dense black cloud. The refuse at top is from this party. There are people out trying to clean up, but the making of this mess are not among them.
The people who made this mess do not live here, they are not people who walk the beach at sunrise or enjoy the quiet or nature. They come here to drink and blow things up—illegal explosions that they indulge in here because there is no one to stop them.
“ ‘When people think of air pollution, they think of other kinds of things—smoke stacks, automobile exhaust pipes, construction sites,’ says study author Dian J. Seidel, senior scientist for climate measurements at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). ‘I don’t think most people think of fireworks.’
“The level of particulate matter, or small pollutants like dust, dirt and soot present in the air, increased by 42% on average across the U.S. on the Fourth of July, according to the study. Air conditions are at their worst between 9 and to 10 p.m. on the day of the holiday. The researchers, who looked at data from 315 sites across the country, found that ten of the sites met a threshold deemed unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when sustained for a prolonged period of time.”—Time
I sometime indulge in a fantasy where I drive to Lake Oswego and light explosives in a driveway, set a fire in a Laurelhurst lawn, or drive all the way to Seattle and set off firecrackers in the middle of the night.