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Should OC Replace 4th Of July Fireworks With Drone Shows? Report

Patch logo Patch 6/30/2021 Ashley Ludwig
fireworks in the sky: A recent study showed Independence Day plumes are full of pollutants that can pose significant health risks, especially in Orange County. © Shutterstock A recent study showed Independence Day plumes are full of pollutants that can pose significant health risks, especially in Orange County.

IRVINE, CA —Scientists at UC Irvine are calling for a reimagining of the typical 4th of July celebrations that are more environmentally friendly. A recent study on Independence Day fireworks shows spark plumes of pollutants can pose significant health risks.

The lead author of the study, Amirhosein Mousavi, a postdoctoral scholar in UCI's Program in Public Health, says the pollutants were worse in 2020 due to the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions and spurred more individual backyard fireworks displays.

Instead of gathering with neighbors for fireworks displays, "everybody basically had a firework," Mousavi said.

On average, Los Angeles County last year saw a 50% increase over 2019 in pollutants on the Independence Day holiday that was generated by fireworks, a report that "was shocking," according to Mousavi.

Pollution was down during the lockdown restrictions because there were fewer people driving and more working from home, but that all changed as residents blasted off bottle rockets and other pyrotechnics around July of, he said.

"People needed to see some celebration because it was the Fourth of July, which I understand, but they didn't choose one of the safer ones" that were suggested, Mousavi said.

The scientists compared the air with Northern California, where laws are more strict regarding fireworks, and there was less pollution north, Mousavi said.

Newer technology was used to measure the pollution in the air.

PurpleAir sensors were able to get more specific data on various areas.

Before data was collected from much larger geographical areas, which watered down what was happening in various neighborhoods more prone to fireworks activity, Mousavi said.

Of all the counties in California, Los Angeles County experienced the highest levels of fireworks-related airborne pollutants during the 4th of July in 2019 and 2020.

The unique topography of Orange County causes ocean winds to drive the pollutants east, however the Santa Ana mountains block it in, he said.

The fireworks-related pollution was also twice as much in neighborhoods housing lower socioeconomic residents, more minorities and those with higher asthma rates, Mousavi said.

The fireworks-related pollution was higher in the northern cities of Orange County, where "safe and sane" fireworks are allowed, Mousavi said.

The larger, more organized fireworks display that is put on by local governments are just as toxic as the backyard fireworks, Mousavi said.

The pollutants can be sucked into the lungs and passed on to other tissues in the body, the researchers say. Fireworks contain barium, copper, magnesium, potassium and strontium.

Jun Wu, a UCI professor of public health who is a co-author of the study, says that the fine particles are known to cause a wide range of adverse health effects, including premature mortality, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, adverse pregnancy outcomes, and neurological diseases.

The pollutants generated by the fireworks can increase the risks of cancer not to mention anxiety attacks.

"They could be replaced by much better" alternatives, such as "drone shows" or laser displays, Mousavi said.

Drone shows are growing in popularity in Japan, for instance and are more sustainable, Mousavi said.

The "younger generations" prefer the drone shows on holidays such as New Year's Eve in Japan, Mousavi said.

An investment in drones will be much cheaper in the long run than setting off new batches of traditional pyrotechnics year after year, according to Mousavi.

Fireworks or new drone displays? Which one do you feel best represents the 4th of July? Let us know in comments.

City News Service, Patch Editor Ashley Ludwig contributed to this report.

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