Fireworks are certainly lots of fun to experience. No matter the holiday, the joy reaped from watching those colors grace the sky, coupled with dramatic music, and the company of your loved ones is undeniable. Yet, it all comes at a steep cost…
While these fun festivities go on, many people do not think to ask, “Are fireworks bad for the environment?”
Wildlife populations have faced the destruction caused by excessive human noise for too long. They struggle with reduced reproductive success, altered behavioral problems, and even losing parts of their natural habitats.4,5
It’s time to leave fireworks in the past and switch to more eco-friendly alternatives. Furthermore, humans must begin undoing the lasting effects of noise and air pollution caused by these explosive celebrations. The best way to do that is with tree planting offset programs.
Noise Pollution from Fireworks
The primary concern about fireworks is the noise pollution. Even back in the ‘70s, scientists were growing concerned about how the excess noise from fireworks affects local wildlife.
Investigations into the health effects of fireworks’ air and noise pollution took place on the Hawai’ian island of Oahu, where they learned that these explosions can reach 117 dBA, exceeding all the island’s noise codes. (“dBA” means A-weighted decibels, a measurement of sound according to human ear sensitivity.)1
In 2016, researchers Tagayasu Tanaka, Ryoichi Inaba, and Atsuhito Aoyama studied these effects by gathering data from approximately 100 m away from a firework launch site. They detected sound levels ranging from 100-115dB at night and low-frequency sounds between 100-125 dB. At launch, fireworks emitted 133 dB from their data gathering site.2
The scientists considered the critical threshold to be 100 dB, past which the noise became “very loud” and a health and safety hazard. This is as loud as a commercial truck engine, so imagine the effects of fireworks!10
For humans, they suggested wearing ear protection, displaying warning signs in areas where fireworks are operated, and requiring firework operators to conduct launches remotely.2
But what are wild animals to do? They have no choice but to remain in their natural habitats, unwillingly exposed to dangerous noise levels that interfere with their daily lives as well.
Unfortunately, as Association RUVID (Network of Valencian Universities for the promotion of Research, Development, and Innovation) wrote for Phys.Org, “[F]ew studies… have focused on loud and intermittent noises of a recreational nature… and the effects they cause on urban fauna.”3
Even fewer have investigated how firework noise interferes with species reproductive success. The disruptions could be so destructive that some population numbers may fluctuate in consequence.
Bombs Bursting in Air (and Hurting Wildlife)
Edgar Bernat-Ponce, professor and researcher at the University of Valencia’s Cavanilles Institute of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology, and colleagues write, “Anthropogenic noise is an almost omnipresent environmental stressor in an urbanizing world.”4
Overall, “anthropogenic noise” (meaning unnatural noise caused by human activity) can be divided into two primary categories:5
- Chronic or frequent: These are typically predictable, including things like road traffic and airport ambiance.
- Temporal or intermittent: On the contrary, these sounds are relatively unpredictable. They often take the form of fireworks or alarms.
Each category imposes a different effect on wildlife populations, affecting factors such as habitat use, communication, individual biological and physiological functions, reproduction, and much more.4,5
Among the most well-known consequences of noise pollution is bird communication disruption. In Chapter 6 of Avian Urban Ecology: Behavioral and Physiological Adaptations, Diego Gil and Henrik Brumm report that “bird populations exposed to high noise levels” suffer from lower reproductive success because of interference in mating partners’ communication.5
The birds are eventually forced to live closer together, leading to fiercer competition for resources, causing more fights, especially between males.5
Generally, wild animals can suffer from any of the following harms related to excessive environmental noise:
- Changes in sleep patterns, daily activity, routines
- Reduced foraging or feeding efficiency
- Heightened anti-predator behavior (essentially, the animals are “on edge”)
- Fluctuations in mate attraction and territorial defense
Concerning birds, Bernat-Ponce’s team reported that firework noise can even affect the wellbeing of eggs and nestlings. When COVID-19 caused an onslaught of festival cancellations, the researchers saw young birds that had been exposed to excess noise suddenly become just as productive as those in towns absent of the harm. Still, the birds’ overall breeding success did not recover, even with widespread cancellations.4
How to Silence the Harmful Effects of Firework Noise and Toxins
The most obvious way to stop excess firework noise from hurting local wildlife is to stop launching them. As fun as they might be to watch, there’s nothing forcing you to participate in the recreational explosions. Instead, you could opt for alternatives, including:6,7
- Party poppers or party crackers (just clean up the mess!)
- Colorful bubbles
- Laser show
- Campfire (use proper fire safety measures!)
Unfortunately, even if everybody stopped letting off fireworks for the next few years (or forever), global ecosystems will continue to deal with the consequences. This is not only because of the chronic effects of anthropogenic noise, but the toxins the fireworks release.
A recent study involving ten separate fireworks displays showed that they release harmful particulate matter (PM) that can cause lung inflammation “in mammalian cells and lungs.”8
Knowing this, efforts to undo the devastating consequences of such a harmful celebratory tradition over several centuries can seem hopeless. Fortunately, some experts are turning to one nature-based solution that’s incredibly well-suited to removing PM from the air: forestry offsets.
Rita Baraldi, an Institute of Bioeconomy of the Italian National Research Council plant physiologist, told the BBC that plants, especially trees, act as the “lungs” and “livers” of global ecosystems. They filter a plethora of gases through their leaves, and, according to David Nowak, U.S. Forest Service senior scientists, trees excel at removing PM from the atmosphere.9 With that said, your best bet at shrinking your carbon footprint and mitigating the impacts of your last firework celebration before switching to the above alternatives, is to support an afforestation or reforestation offset program.
(Afforestation is when trees are planted in an area that did not previously have trees, while reforestation is rebuilding forests in areas that have been decimated by deforestation or wildfires.)
Through projects that reforest and conserve trees in critical carbon sinks like the Amazon Rainforest, you can relieve wildlife of the destruction wrought by fireworks and create a safer future for all life on Earth.
Ditch the Fireworks and Go Carbon Neutral
Carbon offsets are the best tool you have to mitigate the effects of destructive fireworks, both regarding noise and air pollution. Global ecosystems have suffered for far too long while humans have ignored the environmental consequences for centuries.
The time for action is now. Ditch the fireworks and switch to more eco-friendly alternatives for your holiday celebrations. The answer to the question, “Are fireworks bad for the environment?” is a resounding yes, according to the scientific studies currently available. For even greater assurance that you’re helping save the planet and biodiversity, calculate your carbon footprint with an ecological footprint calculator and start offsetting the effects today with a trusted carbon offset provider.
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1Bach, W., Daniels, A., Hertlein, F., Morrows, J., Margolis, S., & Dinh Dinh, V. (1974). Fireworks pollution and health. International Journal of Environmental Studies, 7(3), 183-192. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207237508709692
2Tanaka, T., Inaba, R., & Aoyama, A. (2016). Noise and low‐frequency sound levels due to aerial fireworks and prediction of the occupational exposure of pyrotechnicians to noise. Journal of Occupational Health, 58(6), 593-601. https://doi.org/10.1539/joh.16-0064-oa
3RUVID Association. (2021, May 17). Noise pollution reduces the reproductive success of the house sparrow. Phys.org. Retrieved August 26, 2021, from https://phys.org/news/2021-05-noise-pollution-reproductive-success-house.html
4Bernat-Ponce, E., Gil-Delgado, J. A., & López-Iborra, G. M. (2021). Recreational noise pollution of traditional festivals reduces the juvenile productivity of an avian urban bioindicator. Environmental Pollution, 286, 117247. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2021.117247
5Gil, D., & Brumm, H. (2013). Chapter 6: Acoustic communication in the urban environment: patterns, mechanisms, and potential consequences of avian song adjustments. In Avian urban ecology (pp. 69-83). Oxford University Press.
6VanSchmus, E. (2021, June 30). 7 festive ways to celebrate Fourth of July without fireworks. Better Homes & Gardens. Retrieved August 26, 2021, from https://www.bhg.com/holidays/july-4th/traditions/safe-firework-alternatives/
7Spring Power & Gas. (2020, July 1). 6 eco-friendly alternatives to fireworks. https://springpowerandgas.us/6-eco-friendly-alternatives-to-fireworks/
8Hickey, C., Gordon, C., Galdanes, K., Blaustein, M., Horton, L., Chillrud, S., Ross, J., Yinon, L., Chen, L. C., & Gordon, T. (2020). Toxicity of particles emitted by fireworks. Particle and Fibre Toxicology, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12989-020-00360-4
9Traverso, V. (2020, May 4). The best trees to reduce air pollution. BBC: Future Planet. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200504-which-trees-reduce-air-pollution-best
10(2019, February 6). QUIET OPERATION – Odyne Systems, LLC. Retrieved August 27, 2021, from https://www.odyne.com/benefits/quiet-operation/