Americans have been celebrating the birth of their country with the use of fireworks since the founding of the nation. In a letter to his wife Abigail, the second President of the United States John Adams wrote that the signing of the Declaration of Independence should be forever remembered “with pomp and parade, with shrews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”
The first fireworks in celebration of the new nation were lit on July 4, 1777 and have been going ever since. There are some states which, due to concerns about wildfires have banned the use of fireworks but there are still celebrations with the fireworks being available in controlled situations such as an arena or lakeside area.
It is somewhat disputed where fireworks first originated; some believe that fireworks were first used in India while others maintain that it was the Middle East. The first to actually document the practice were the Chinese who would light bamboo on fire which, due to the natural air pockets would create a loud bang or snapping noise. They then began to experiment with various chemicals to produce the world’s first gunpowder.
Needless to say fireworks have come a long way since those early days of America, and in fact most of the fireworks found in America today are made in and imported from China. It should be no surprise then, that modern fireworks contain many toxic chemicals which over the years have made their way into our soil and waterways. It is assumed that the chemicals will burn up when the firework is consumed in the air but studies have shown this to be inaccurate. In 2007 a lake in Oklahoma was tested after a nearby fireworks celebration; it was found to have over 1,000 times the levels of perchlorates than it would normally have. In large doses perchlorates are known to cause negative reactions to the thyroid gland. The heavy metals found in fireworks are known to cause health issues as well; the metal Cadmium is found to cause respiratory issues, Barium causes muscular disorders, and copper which can produce Dioxin and can cause hormone disruption.
No one wants to stop Americans from celebrating their independence day, but more thought should be given to the health and environmental consequences of these celebrations. With modern day fireworks being imported from a country whose regular use of heavy metals in manufacturing has been well documented Americans would do well in limiting their exposure to these harmful chemicals. As anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
With our global population growing at approximately 75 million per year we can be sure that the impact of our actions today will be felt far in the future. Children that are being born today are counting on their predecessors to leave them a world which will sustain them and someday their children.