When the fireworks began erupting over UB’s 2022 Homecoming carnival, I was already on my way home.
They looked pretty in my rearview mirror, where my autistic ears were safe from the deafening boom and the air pollution couldn’t get to my asthmatic lungs.
If you’re wondering why I dislike fireworks so much, it’s because of their detrimental impact on the environment.
Fireworks explode because they contain oxidizers, called perchlorates, which are water-soluble. When the perchlorates fall from the sky into bodies of water, or in places where they will be picked up in runoff, they dissolve and contaminate the aquatic ecosystem.
Fireworks are colored by metal additives, which turn into metal salts in the combustion reaction, and then rain down and contaminate soil and waterways. The reaction also produces greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen.
But not all of the airborne pollutants of fireworks displays go straight into the atmosphere. Some of the metals, gasses and particulates from the explosions also remain low to the ground, creating smog that harms the lungs of humans and other animals in the area. Not only do the chemical pollutants cause breathing problems, they also contaminate the soil and water we grow our food with. Not to mention that firework casing rains down into natural spaces as ash and smoldering pieces of confetti.
On the Fourth of July, I made the mistake of sleeping with my window open. I woke up at 3 a.m., unable to breathe. I remember checking my weather app and opening the air quality index map. As I zoomed out over the U.S., I saw pockets of red and yellow — signifying poor air quality — all over the country.
With today’s emphasis on achieving environmental sustainability, I couldn’t help but cringe at the irony in how we choose to celebrate our country.
The air settled after a few days as I watched the map, but other, less measurable impacts of the pollution have persisted, no doubt.
Noise pollution is another unfavorable repercussion of fireworks, for ecosystems and for humans alike. Combat veterans and those sensitive to sounds — including children and autistic people — are especially bothered by the explosions.
I’ve seen people put headphones on their dogs on the Fourth of July. If people are concerned for their pets during fireworks displays on holidays, they should also make note of the animals outside who are hearing the explosions above their nests and burrows.
The light and sound of fireworks disturbs sleeping diurnal animals and disrupts their sleep schedule, making them vulnerable to attack by nocturnal animals. The sound of the explosions has been shown to send sensitive animals into shock and cause death or permanent nervous system disruption.
Fireworks cause animals to startle and flee, forcing them away from their nests and offspring to dangerous areas like roadways. The sound also causes hearing problems for the animals in proximity to the explosion, which impacts their ability to hunt or keep themselves safe from predators. Disrupting the animals within the ecosystem disrupts the ecosystem itself.
UB’s Homecoming fireworks are only one of many examples of environmental destruction.
UB is not to blame for the pollution associated with fireworks displays, but the environmental impact of our school’s events should be considered. As students retreated to their dorms and homes after the carnival, the ecosystem began its long recovery.
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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that UB has an ongoing contract with the Town of Amherst for a Fourth of July fireworks display. UB and the town ended their agreement to hold a fireworks display at the university’s North Campus in 2019. The inaccurate statement in this story has been removed. We regret this error.