After two years of COVID-19 lockdowns, in-person celebrations are back on Canada Day.
With events underway and planned across the country, the day will conclude with a spectacular fireworks display – a long tradition but also a risk.
“We haven’t had any large-scale Canada Day events in recent years. This year will be even more meaningful,” said Aleem Kanji, Chief Advocacy Officer of the Canadian National Fireworks Association.
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In Canada, municipalities have different rules for storing fireworks, and the federal government has legalized 4,000 products, Kanji said.
However, there are concerns about the potential impact on the environment, wildlife and our health.
“There are a lot of things that are actually not great about fireworks,” said Kent Moore, a professor of physics at the University of Toronto, Mississauga.
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The colors, which look beautiful when they light up the sky, come from the oxidation of minerals like copper, barium and lithium, which are toxic to the environment, he said. These chemical minerals settle on the earth and can seep into rivers.
Oxidizers found in fireworks are also carcinogenic, Moore added.
Fireworks have been shown to increase air pollution from particulate matter by a factor of five to six, said Paul Villenueve, an environmental epidemiologist at Carleton University.
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Even though the displays only last about 20 minutes, the pollutants will remain in the air for five or six hours afterward, he told Global News.
“There is a significant increase in outdoor air pollution fireworks, and many of these increases are causing air pollution levels to exceed established standards and guidelines for both Canada and the United States,” he said.
Children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with respiratory diseases are particularly at risk, Villenueve said.
Smoke from fireworks, even when localized, can cause problems for people with impaired lung function, Moore said. And if you get too close, “you might get tears in your eyes,” he said.
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Then there’s the problem of noise pollution from the loud sounds to which animals are particularly sensitive, both Moore and Villeneuve said.
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Although rare, fireworks carry the risk of setting a building or area on fire.
That’s why the city of Kamloops, British Columbia, scrapped its fireworks earlier this year amid concerns about possible wildfires.
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Across the border, in the United States, several western cities have canceled fireworks displays for the Fourth of July because of the risk of wildfire.
“With climate change and certainly … with some of the more extreme heat events that we’ve seen and the lack of rain in drier areas, that really raises concerns about the use of fireworks,” said Villeneuve.
Moore said that although most wildfires aren’t started by fireworks, there are instances where wildfires have been attributed to them.
“If it’s really dry and you’re in a wooded area, I wouldn’t recommend using firecrackers because they involve fire,” he said.
Play it safe and scale back
The Canadian National Fireworks Association encourages all Canadians to obey the law and use fireworks safely and responsibly.
“Know the rules … before using fireworks, the time of day they’re allowed and whether you’re allowed to use them in sensitive areas,” CNFA’s Kanji said.
If you plan on triggering them at home, have a flashlight and bucket of water handy, and wear safety goggles and gloves, he advised. Also, let your neighbors know in advance and clean up afterwards, Kanji added.
“Make sure no one is in the immediate vicinity or it could cause a misfire,” Moore said.
“You must follow the instructions and understand that these are explosives that contain gunpowder and are very dangerous.”
Petitions have been filed by residents in some cities calling for a ban on fireworks.
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Personal fireworks are prohibited in Vancouver and may only be lit by a certified technician. In 2020, the city banned the sale and use of consumer fireworks.
Given the known dangers, experts emphasize the need to limit the use of firecrackers or scrap the age-old tradition.
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Villeneuve suggested shortening the length of the fireworks and using other greener alternatives like drone light shows.
“So there are a number of steps that can be taken aside from a total ban,” he said.
Fireworks can also be made less toxic by replacing some of the chemicals used, Moore said, but “generally they add cost and may not be quite as impressive,” he added.
He said Canada, like other countries, should seriously consider the environmental impact of fireworks celebrations and weigh the pros and cons of their use.
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https://globalnews.ca/news/8961484/canada-day-fireworks-hazards-safety/ Is it Canada Day without fireworks? What you should know about the risks – National