Eco-Friendly Fireworks?

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons/JonRawlinson

Happy Independence Day Audubon readers! Quite possibly one of my favorite holidays, July 4th has the ability to bring together family, friends, food, beverages (whatever they may be), and the outdoors. There are lots of ways to make sure your celebrations are eco-friendly this year, from recycling to solar-powered grills. But is there anyway to ensure your fireworks displays are “green” too?

The answer: not yet, but possibly soon.

Pyrotechnics might be beautiful to watch, but their environmental- and human-health implications are far from pleasant. Asthma attacks have been known to increase in communities following fireworks displays due to thick, particulate-heavy smoke. Many chemicals, like barium and antimony, have been shown to have dangerous affects on the lungs, heart, and stomach. Perchlorate, oxygen-rich molecules that allow the fuel in fireworks to burn, disrupts thyroid endocrine systems and reproduction in wildlife and is listed as a drinking water contaminant by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

In an effort to reduce these environmental consequences, researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory and DMD Systems in New Mexico have been developing new ways to reduce the cocktail of harmful chemicals and smoke released during firework displays. While most pyrotechnics still use carbon-based fuel, newly developed technology burns nitrogen-based fuels instead, making perchlorates obsolete. The nitrogen-based fuel also makes for a cleaner burn, which produces less smoke and uses approximately 10 times less barium.

While there is still a long way to go before fireworks can truly be “green,” it is good news to hear that someone is working on the issue. The only downfall of this new technology is its high cost, which might hinder municipalities from using it in the future. The product’s price tag has also hindered it from being available in local neighborhood fireworks stores, meaning your backyard extravaganza might not be eco-friendly chemical-wise for a while.

In the meantime, here are some tips to make sure your July 4th fireworks displays are as kind to nature as possible with consideration to wildlife:

Choose noise-free ground fireworks. Loud explosions are sure to frighten your backyard critters.
Check your surroundings before dark. While there is still sunlight, make sure there are no birds nests or other animal dwellings near your launch site.
Skip your neighborhood displays. Save money, reduce pollutant emissions, and protect local wildlife by not buying personal fireworks. A local municipality or business is sure to have a larger display that you can watch instead.
Pressure local authorities. Make sure your local government has checked their fireworks launch area to ensure that no raptors have set up shop nearby. This is particularly important along rivers where ospreys and bald eagles congregate.
Petition for the future. Fight to guarantee that your city or town will switch to eco-friendly fireworks products when they are available and/or more affordable.