Fireworks can cause significant pollution. They are often set off over water, because setting them off over land creates a risk of fire. (Some communities ban them over lakes used as drinking water sources because of pollution concerns.)
After two Super Bowl fireworks shows over San Francisco Bay in 2016, several reports of fireworks pollution came in to Baykeeper’s Pollution Hotline.
The morning after the first fireworks display, swimmers in the water at San Francisco’s Aquatic Park ran into significant plastic and cardboard debris. That day, National Park Service staff removed charred fuses, plastic, and cardboard pieces from the Aquatic Park beach, filling four 50-gallon trash containers.
Following the second fireworks show a week later, 30 more pounds of fireworks debris washed up at the Aquatic Park beach. More continued to wash up for weeks. It’s likely that even more remained in the bay, washed up on other shorelines, or washed out into the Pacific Ocean.
This pollution doesn’t have to happen.
The company that puts on the majority of local fireworks displays, Pyro Spectaculars North, Inc., is cooperating with Baykeeper on an effort to improve fireworks shows over the Bay. There are methods of preventing, or at least minimizing, pollution from fireworks. In San Diego, companies putting on fireworks displays are required to use practices that give maximum protection to the body of water. Baykeeper and Pyro Spectaculars have signed an agreement that requires the company to implement these same measures to prevent fireworks pollution in San Francisco Bay.
Here are some of the requirements:
Replace perchlorate with less toxic substances. Perchlorate is a chemical used in fireworks to create bright flashes of light. But once perchlorate is in the water, it can harm people and wildlife. Alternative fireworks create bright flashes using less toxic substances.
Remove debris immediately. Within 24 hours, cardboard, plastic and other debris should be collected from everywhere it falls on the water or washes onto shore.
Prevent fireworks from washing overboard. When fireworks are launched from barges, entire boxes can fall into the water before they are even set off. Fireworks aboard boats must be properly secured at all times.
Following the 2016 July 4th fireworks displays by San Francisco and Berkeley, Baykeeper and the nonprofit organization Shark Stewards, along with Dolphin Club members, held two investigative cleanups, along shorelines at the Berkeley Marina and Aquatic Park in San Francisco. We also urged the public to report any fireworks debris. We found none, and none was reported to us. The lack of pollution findings may indicate that Baykeeper’s collaborative efforts to prevent fireworks pollution in the Bay are working.
Baykeeper will continue to monitor for fireworks pollution, and will keep working with Pyro Spectaculars and local agencies to improve practices around future fireworks displays—toward a Declaration of Independence for San Francisco Bay from fireworks pollution.
If you see fireworks debris polluting the shoreline or Bay, please contact Baykeeper's pollution hotline.
Photo at top by Daniel Parks, Flickr/CC. Photo of fireworks debris by David McGuire, sharkstewards.org