Taking Action to Protect the Bay from Fireworks Debris

Baykeeper’s Pollution Hotline received several pollution reports after each of two recent San Francisco fireworks shows held as part of the Super Bowl 50 festivities. The reports—from a Baykeeper board member, swimmers at the San Francisco-based Dolphin Club, and cleanup volunteers from the nonprofit organization Shark Stewards—contained evidence of fireworks debris contaminating San Francisco Bay and the Aquatic Park shoreline.

The contamination first became apparent the day after the first Super Bowl fireworks display on January 31. Large amounts of fireworks debris contaminated the Aquatic Park waters, which are used by open-water swimmers. Initial reports indicated that swimmers who were in the water the morning of February 1 encountered significant plastic and cardboard debris that interfered with their swim. That morning, National Park Service staff removed charred fuses, plastic, and cardboard pieces from the beach at Aquatic Park, filling four 50-gallon trash containers.

In response to the reports, Baykeeper investigated how this contamination was allowed to happen. We learned that the companies putting on the fireworks displays were not required to secure Clean Water Act permits, so they were not expected to monitor or contain debris to prevent pollution in the Bay.

Baykeeper immediately urged regional water regulators to put requirements in place to prevent future contamination. We also sent a letter to the company that conducted the fireworks display, Pyro Spectaculars, telling them that pollution of this type is unacceptable and that they need to take stronger measures to prevent it. In response, local regulators suggested specific measures to try to reduce debris in time for the second fireworks show.

After the second show on February 5, more fireworks debris washed up at Aquatic Park. Volunteers from Shark Stewards again did their regular weekly Saturday cleanup of the park the day after the second Super Bowl fireworks display, and they contacted Baykeeper to report more than 30 pounds of fireworks debris. A full week after the second fireworks display, they collected another gallon bucketful of remaining washed-up debris. It’s likely that even more plastic pollution is still in the Bay, covering other shorelines, or being washed out into the Pacific Ocean.

A Regional Water Board official told the San Francisco Chronicle that they may investigate the Super Bowl shows and issue fines to those responsible. Based on our discussions with the agency staff, the Board is also considering Baykeeper’s recommendation that producers of fireworks displays on the Bay be required to obtain a Clean Water Act permit detailing how they will keep debris from polluting the Bay. Baykeeper will monitor the Board’s actions and keep working to ensure that San Francisco Bay is protected from fireworks contamination.

While fireworks celebrations are a fun tradition around San Francisco Bay, the responsible companies must ensure proper cleanup of plastics and other debris. They cannot leave it to nonprofits to clean up the mess or leave it in the Bay.

To report pollution in San Francisco Bay to Baykeeper, call our hotline at 1-800-KEEP-BAY, email [email protected], or click here.

Photos top right by David McGuire, Shark Stewards