This year’s Edinburgh Bonfire Night will be well remembered due to the fire on Arthur’s Seat, lasting well over one hour. This incident is not unique; data from Manchester shows that the 5th of November registers five times more firefighter interventions than an average night, while 2000 fire accidents were attended in London last year.
Bonfire Night is one of many holidays celebrated with fireworks. New Year’s Eve, Diwali, and the 4th of July are just a few festivals featuring these colourful explosions.
It seems like innocent fun, but only until the more detrimental consequences become evident and fireworks have those in an abundant quantity. The first concern should be with people’s safety. Hospital admittance escalates in most big cities following celebrations featuring fireworks. The spectrum of accidents is diverse; from minor injuries to sometimes life-threatening scorches.
Concerning as it sounds, this is just the beginning of the dangerous consequences of fireworks. A few minutes of lovely colours lighting up the sky bring long-term negative effects on the environment. The most obvious sign of pollution is the scenery of the morning after the late-night celebrations: disassembled parts of fireworks, plastic packages, rubbish, and empty alcohol bottles.
Incidents of fires, like the one on Arthur’s Seat, are the immediate effects, causing destruction of wildlife and injuries to animals. However, there are less obvious but even more dangerous and long-lasting consequences, such as the pollution of the air. Fireworks are technically small pyrotechnic missiles. They contain a mixture of salts and heavy metallic compounds, such as barium or aluminium, to create colourful effects. During the explosion those elements undergo chemical reactions, releasing a fine cloud of smoke and polluting the air.
The main gases released from a single firework are typically carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen, which are main greenhouse gases responsible to a high extent for climate change. Some metal atoms that do not burn up completely during the explosions end up in the air as aerosols and then can be washed out by rainfall, polluting not only air but also waters and soil.
Pollution created by the fireworks not only stays in the air permanently but can also travel away from its origin, spreading the environmental hazards. Research conducted in London three weeks after New Year’s Eve, discovered an increased concentration of nitrogen and sulphur oxides, the main causes of acid rains. As particles can travel in the air, those incidents of rainfalls occur as far as 100 kilometres outside the city.
Nonetheless, many people insist on traditional celebrations involving fireworks despite their dangerous effects. “They look beautiful” is the most mentioned argument. Being attached to tradition is understandable; however, it becomes clearer how detrimental those habits might be. Celebrating holidays with loud, colourful explosions seems to create the festive spirit, lift up the moods and, quite literally, light up a dull routine.
Despite the personal preferences, social and environmental welfare is at stake, with the use of fireworks escalating. The need for sustainable ways of entertainment during holidays is more apparent than ever. Substituting fireworks for drones or laser shows might be an option. Scientific research has made significant progress in developing eco-friendly fireworks, producing less smoke and containing fewer heavy metals.
Change is on the way, but it will be slow and, most likely, costly. Thus, under current circumstances, shifting to celebration without fireworks might be necessary or implementing strict policies providing both entertainment for people and environmental safety.