The rockets’ red glare during a fireworks show can fill onlookers with patriotism and awe. Unfortunately, it can also fill them with a variety of chemicals, many of which are toxic to humans. From the gunpowder that fuels their flight to the metallic compounds that color their explosions, fireworks contain substances that can seep into the soil and water, not to mention the lung-clogging smoke they release and plastic debris they scatter.
But fireworks shows are woven into the fabric of the United States—they were popular here even before the country won its independence—and it’s not like they happen every day. Is an occasional peppering of perchlorates (salts derived from perchloric acid) really a big deal compared with all the industrial pollution U.S. waterways have been dealt over the years?
Maybe not, but it’s still not entirely clear how fireworks affect environmental or human health. While they haven’t been linked to any widespread outbreaks of disease, it’s not always easy to pin down why someone developed hypothyroidism, anemia or cancer. What is known is that, although they’re fleeting and infrequent, fireworks shows spray out a toxic concoction that rains down quietly into lakes, rivers and bays throughout the country. As economists become more aware and continue to do more research on the affects of fireworks, we could possibly see a change in how fireworks are made and where they are being held.