With July 4 right around the corner, people are going to be attending cook outs and watching fireworks. Those are the two big traditions with celebrating the birth of the United States. Unfortunately, while fireworks may light up the sky in a brilliant spectacle of colors and sounds, there’s a growing body of evidence that they may not be a great idea. Not only can they ruin your pet’s night, they can be bad for the environment and our health! If you love the flash and boom of a well-choreographed fireworks display, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

Potential Safety Hazards of Fireworks

The most obvious danger presented by fireworks is the potential to cause yourself harm. In 2017 alone, fireworks caused eight deaths and 12,900 injuries through misuse and accidents. Roughly two-thirds of these reports come around June and July, namely the Fourth of July holiday. The most common injuries are burns, especially to the hands and arms, but they can get much more severe. Despite this, sales of fireworks continue to grow in the United States. This just makes it all the more important to be safe and leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals.

Pretty Chemicals You’re Breathing In

Beyond physical harm, the ways that fireworks can be bad for you aren’t as obvious. As the fireworks light up the night sky, smoke and a bitter scent blankets those watching from the ground. That smell and smoke are remnants of the chemical compounds that give fireworks their brilliant colors. The same chemicals that caused that pollution spike from before. And if you’re sitting there in the smoke, smelling that scent, you’re breathing those pollutants in, and potentially causing respiratory issues. This is especially true in the young and old, who’s systems may not be strong enough to withstand damage from the chemicals.

That smell and smoke are remnants of the chemical compounds that give fireworks their brilliant colors.

Common chemicals used in fireworks are sodium nitrate (yellow), copper chloride (blue), barium chloride (green), strontium carbonate (red), and calcium chloride (orange). These metals are added to gunpowder to make the explosive results we see in the sky. The particles are small enough to be inhaled into the body, causing a real concern. For those with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or angina, these conditions can be aggravated and worsened by the smoke, to the extent that some local health departments are issuing health warnings. While the effect on most people will be limited to coughing, those with a history of these conditions, or the elderly, may get hit much worse. Not to mention, smoke inhalation is never good for your health.

When the BOOM Causes Hearing Issues

Fireworks shows aren’t just about the bright colors. With the lights comes an audible BOOM from the explosion of the fireworks. That explosion isn’t just loud; it’s loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss. Fireworks can exceed 150 decibels, which is louder than a plane engine during takeoff. Keep in mind that any sound over 120 decibels can instantly cause damage to your hearing and prolonged exposure to this noise — like during a 30-minute fireworks show — can be even worse. This is helping to create an epidemic of hearing loss in the United States that’s harming the young and old.

How to Avoid the Problems

One way you can avoid the health hazards of fireworks is to simply avoid them. Don’t watch the firework shows, instead stay indoors during the evening of July 4. Now, if you love fireworks displays, this isn’t an option. Watching from inside the house is another option, but it might not capture the full experience (and you may not be able to see the show from your house).

If you decide you need to be there, there’s still a few precautions you can take. No matter who you are, no matter how old or healthy, you should be wearing ear protection when you’re at the show. This can be ear plugs or safety ear muffs so long as it muffles the sound and keeps your hearing from being permanently damaged.

No matter who you are, no matter how old or healthy, you should be wearing ear protection when you’re at the show.

At the same time, you need to account for the smoke and chemicals that you may breathe in. You can help prevent some of this by wearing a facemask or respirator that helps filter out the potentially dangerous particles. If you have one, you should also have your inhaler on hand in case you need it. Finally, the best way you can experience a fireworks show without the risks, is to sit upwind and as far away as possible. Sitting upwind will ensure that the smoke isn’t actively being blown toward you, while the distance will dissipate both the smoke and sound before it reaches you.

Finally, you should never set off fireworks on your own. Leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals. They know how to safely set up the displays and have the equipment to do it. This is the best way to prevent yourself from joining the list of the thousands injured by fireworks every year.

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Fireworks are a central part of the celebrations for the Fourth of July, but they need to be enjoyed safely. Using common sense can mitigate many of the risks, but you still need to account for the aspects that we don’t usually account for. With the loud noises assaulting our ear drums and the choking smoke hurting our lungs, we need to be smarter about how we celebrate our nation’s birthday and make sure that these celebrations aren’t harming us, our pets, and the environment.