After two years of COVID-19 lockdown, in-person celebrations return on Canada Day.
With events underway and planned across the country, the day will culminate in spectacular fireworks displays – a long-standing tradition of celebration, but also a danger.
“We haven’t had any large-scale Canada Day events in the last two years. This year is going to be even more significant,” said Aleem Kanji, director of advocacy for the Canadian National Fireworks Association.
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In Canada, municipalities have different rules for displaying fireworks, and the federal government has legally approved 4,000 products, Kanji said.
However, there are concerns about potential impacts on the environment, wildlife, and our health.
“There’s a lot of things that aren’t really great about fireworks,” said Kent Moore, a professor of physics at the University of Toronto, Mississauga.
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The colors that look beautiful when they light up the sky are created by the oxidation of minerals, such as copper, barium and lithium, that are toxic to the environment, he said. These chemical minerals settle to the ground and can seep into rivers.
The oxidizers contained in fireworks are also carcinogenic, Moore added.
Fireworks have been shown to increase levels of fine particle air pollution by five to six times, said Paul Villenueve, an environmental epidemiologist at Carleton University.
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Even though the screens may only last about 20 minutes, the pollutants will remain in the air for five to six hours afterward, he told Global News.
“There are substantial increases from fireworks in outdoor air pollution, and many of these increases result in air pollution concentrations exceeding established standards and guidelines for both Canada and the US,” he said.
Children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with respiratory illnesses are particularly vulnerable, Villenueve said.
Smoke from fireworks, even if localized, can cause problems for people with compromised lung function, Moore said. And if you’re too close, “you could get teary-eyed,” she said.
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Then there’s also the problem of noise pollution from 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.
This is why the city of Kamloops in British Columbia eliminated its fireworks this year due to concerns about potential wildfires.
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Across the border in the United States, several Western cities have canceled July 4 fireworks displays due to the threat of a wildfire.
“With climate change and certainly … with some of the more extreme heat events that we’ve been seeing and the lack of rain in drier areas, that really drives more concern about the use of fireworks,” Villeneuve said. .
Moore said that while most wildfires aren’t started by fireworks, there are cases where wildfires are blamed on them.
“If it’s very dry and you’re in a wooded area, I wouldn’t recommend using fireworks because they involve fire,” he said.
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The Canadian National Fireworks Association encourages all Canadians to obey the law and use fireworks safely and responsibly.
“Know the rules … before using fireworks, what time of day it’s allowed, and if you can use it in sensitive areas,” said CNFA’s Kanji.
If you plan to blow them up at home, have a flashlight and a bucket of water and wear safety glasses and gloves, he advised. Also, let your neighbors know ahead of time and clean up afterwards, Kanji added.
“Make sure no one is in the immediate vicinity because they can fail,” Moore said.
“You have to follow the instructions and understand that there are explosives in there and they contain gunpowder and they are very dangerous.”
In some cities, residents have filed petitions calling for a ban on fireworks.
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In Vancouver, personal fireworks displays are prohibited and can only be performed by a certified technician. In 2020, the city banned the sale and use of consumer fireworks.
Given the known dangers, experts stress the need to reduce the use of fireworks or end the ancient tradition.
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Villeneuve suggested shortening the duration of fireworks shows and using other more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as drone light shows.
“So there are a number of steps that can be taken in addition to an outright ban,” he said.
Fireworks can also be made less toxic by substituting some of the chemicals used, Moore said, but “they generally add to the cost and may not be as impressive,” he added.
He said that Canada, like other countries, should think seriously about the impacts of fireworks celebrations on the environment and weigh the pros and cons of using them.
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