Happy birthday, America.

With the Fourth of July weekend well underway, millions across the U.S. are preparing to play with fireworks. Unfortunately, lighting Roman candles and aerial cakes are not the shiny, sparkling glory they seem.

This is hardly the first time I’ve taken on the role of holiday Grinch. Last year, along with calling for a ban on firework displays, I pointed out the irony of how one city impacted by the Marshall fire went on to hold their annual fireworks celebration as a marker of returning to normal — as if business as usual hadn’t been exactly how they ended up a disaster zone to begin with.

This year, however, I thought I might approach the topic of fireworks more broadly, offering four specific reasons based on data as to why they should be a relic of the past.

First, fireworks are extremely dangerous. According to the National Fire Protection Association, an estimated 11,500 people sought emergency health care in the U.S. for firework-related injuries in 2021. Many of these injuries were in children.

The NFPA also reported that fireworks were the primary source of more than 12,200 fires that same year. This resulted in over 2,000 structure fires, 316 vehicle fires and nearly 10,000 outside and other fires. As part of these fire events, 29 people were injured and $59 million was lost in property damage. 

Given the American West is already extremely prone to stronger fires, the dangers fireworks pose are increasing, meaning it’s just plain stupid to keep lighting explosives that increase the risk of fires even more. In Colorado alone, multiple wildfires are already underway and insurance rates are through the roof as more property is threatened. Why make it worse? Is a few minutes of “fun” really worth the risk anymore? I say no, at least not if we care about ourselves, our property and our checkbooks.

Second, fireworks cause immense mental distress for people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, most especially combat veterans who acquired the health condition from their time in service. It should go without saying that these veterans are the people who have fought and sacrificed to maintain our independence as a nation. So I ask you: Does it really make sense to celebrate America’s birthday in a way that causes them additional harm? Veterans have already sacrificed enough for us. Can we really not sacrifice a few firework displays once a year for them?

Third, fireworks cause immense distress to pets and wildlife. This can result in everything from anxiety and fear to disorientation and even death. Especially if the fireworks contribute to habitat loss through fire, the impact to our wild spaces cannot be discounted.

Fourth, fireworks cause damage to our environment, including our water and air quality. The bright colors don’t happen by magic. They happen due to complex chemical reactions that leave behind toxic residue. That means that for every red, white and blue pop you enjoy, a series of harmful particles gets left behind in our air, soil and water. We then breathe it, recreate on or in it and even drink that excess pollution. With the serious air and water quality concerns we already have, why keep making it worse?

I know, what a killjoy. But there are a million ways we can celebrate America’s birthday without torturing her land or ourselves. Why not give it a try?

In what appears brighter than the fireworks themselves, a small handful of Colorado cities are trying out drone or laser shows instead of combustible fun. Yet most municipalities are still sticking to tradition no matter the very real cost. Why? What level of disaster will it take for us to learn and change our ways? 

I hope that everyone’s fireworks this year go off without a hitch, but I also know that history suggests that isn’t likely. In which case, as the official Fourth of July Grinch, I can only hope that this year isn’t the year that some people’s beloved fireworks spark more than is intended. 

Take it from someone who fled the Marshall fire, no moment of joy is worth the devastation that can come from a fire-leveled city.

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio

Trish Zornio

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Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio