Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF) has spent countless hours dedicated to the fight against fireworks. Fireworks have been shown to cause harm to our environment, causing pollution, poor water and air quality, and negative impacts on our health. In San Diego, Sea World has nightly fireworks shows throughout May into the first week of September, totaling 83 shows. Many of these shows are six minutes long, with the Fourth of July being 16 minutes in duration. That is approximately 8.4 hours of Fireworks this season. While temporary, these events have lasting effects on animals, the environment, and humans.
Domesticated animals and wildlife are both distressed by the effects of fireworks. Dogs and cats become upset and start pacing, shaking, and seeking shelter. As a former vet tech, I have seen first-hand the devastating impact fireworks have on our furry friends. Fireworks can have devastating effects on our wildlife too. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “The shock of fireworks can cause wildlife to flee, ending up in unexpected areas or roadways, flying into buildings and other obstacles, and even abandoning nests, leaving young vulnerable to predators. The threat to wildlife doesn’t stop at startling lights and sounds; fireworks also have the potential of starting wildfires, directly affecting wildlife and destroying essential habitats. Litter from firecrackers, bottle rockets, and other explosives can be choking hazards for wildlife and may be toxic if ingested.”
The debris from fireworks includes cardboard, plastic, chemicals, paper, and wire. Recently, CERF had firework debris from another local show tested by an EPA-certified laboratory. As expected, this excess paper trash and exploded plastics included various toxic metals and chemicals such as zinc, iron, lead, phosphorus, chromium, and copper. While many of these occur naturally in nature, at higher concentrations, they can lead to health effects and negative impacts on aquatic and marine life. All plastic is non-biodegradable and remains in our environment indefinitely.
These colorful explosives also significantly impact our health and air quality. Firework smoke is filled with microscopic particulate matter, also called PM2.5. A 2019 study found that PM pollutant concentrations are up to eight times higher than average after a firework show. The World Health Organization states, “PM2.5 can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the blood system. Chronic exposure to particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as of lung cancer.”
It’s no surprise that fireworks also result in significant ozone and greenhouse gas emissions.
For our veterans living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, fireworks can be a source of stress instead of celebration. These events can cause panic attacks, heart palpitations, and other emotional responses. The sensory overload of war-like sounds, sights, and smells is a reminder of the trauma they endured for our country.
In addition to CERF members, Residents of Ocean Beach have been fighting tirelessly to get Sea World to opt for less impactful forms of entertainment as Ocean Beach faces the brunt of these disruptions. Many residents are unhappy with the constant nightly disturbances. This year, the community (with the help of IBEW Local 569) has opted to replace its Fourth of July show on the pier with an inaugural drone light show by LUMINOSITY. It is time for Sea World to do the same.
It is 2023; it’s clear more than ever we need to make a change. Laser light or drone shows can be used instead of traditional fireworks, creating a fantastic show. We can simultaneously celebrate, be entertained, and protect our coastal waters, marine life, neighbors, and wildlife affected by fireworks’ visual, auditorial, and environmental impacts.
Top: April 2022 Sea World Fireworks, Bottom: April 2023 Sea World Fireworks demonstrating the discharge of debris and pollutants.
Kristen Northrop is Policy Advocate for Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation. She lives in Clairemont with her dog, Lambeau, and three cats, Marley, Saxa, and Tito. San Diego has become her home after living on the East Coast for much of her life. She is passionate about the environment, wildlife, and enjoys being by the water. In her spare time, you can find her either making pottery, reading, or attending concerts.