Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Should Personal Fireworks Be Banned?

It causes over 10,000 injuries a year involving going to an emergency room, including loss of life, limbs, and vision.  Or permanently degrading some individual's  hearing.

It results in over 15,000 fires per annum, destroying homes, businesses, and vehicles and  causing wildfires that affect thousands of acres.

It seriously pollutes the air with particles and toxic chemicals, undermining the health of those with asthma and heart disease. 

It scares dogs and cats, causing some to cower in the corner or run away.

It can seriously disturb some of our veterans, particularly those with PTSD, bringing on terrifying memories and fear.

It ruins the sleep of many and breeds a disrespect for the law.

You would think we would finally act regarding something that was so profoundly negative in so many ways.  But we don't.  We tolerate personal fireworks.  

And perhaps it is time to get serious about stopping them.

Today, I checked the small particulate levels in our air....the kinds of particles that move deeply into our lungs (PM2.5).   The pollutant numbers surged in Seattle and Marysville and went crazy (nearly 160) in Tacoma.  And many of the fireworks have toxic chemicals and heavy metals.

According to Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, the air was dangerously unhealthy all over the south Sound last night and during the morning hours.

The news was full of the normal results of careless fireworks, including several homes seriously damaged and unlivable.  Among the fires was one in Magnolia and a two-alarm fire in Renton.

Renton Fire:  Picture credit Mike Perry

Magnolia Fire:  KING TV

Every year several young people lose fingers and other serious injuries from fireworks in our area.

And a number of stories talk about fireworks be unsettling to combat veterans.

The effects of fireworks on many pets is profound, producing terror and hiding in closets and under beds.   The fear was obvious in my small dog last night.

Sleep?   Forget it.  My neighborhood in North Seattle sounded like a war zone, with big explosions going off until 2 AM on Tuesday morning.  The vibrations were so profound on the fourth of July that my neighbors car alarm went off.  In Tacoma an apartment complex was burnt down and cable service was cut off for 10,000 customers.

Fireworks put a huge amount of debris into our waterways and in our parks, with obviously negative impacts on wildlife.

Picture credit:  West Seattle Blog
Puget Sound beaches were full of debris (picture credit, NC Pizza)

And it breeds disrespect for our laws and law enforcement.   It is clear that police are looking the other way on July 4th....not enforcing absolutely explicit laws.

So why do we continue the carnage, damage, and scared pets?   Particularly when folks can enjoy a wide collection of professional community displays?

Personal fireworks are illegal in much of the State, including Seattle, so why do the police allow it?  None of the official excuses make sense (e.g., the difficulty in catching people in the act).  Go to any of the major parks, especially ones in the water. (e.g., Mathews Beach Park), on the evening of July 4th.  Catching fireworks felons would be like catching fish in an aquarium.   But before the police did that, an announcement of a no-tolerance policy should be made at least a month before, to discourage folks from stocking up.

The biggest source of fireworks is probably the native american "boom cities", such as the ones in Marysville and Auburn.   Clearly, the State needs to work with the tribes to end the sales of fireworks there.  It is demeaning to the environmental traditions of native americans to degrade our environment with toxic smoke and noise.

Some folks may argue that fireworks are part of "Americana" and independence day traditions.    But no one is arguing to get rid of public displays.   But is the "fun" worth deaths, injuries, and burned down homes?   Of loss of hearing and inducing fear in our pets and vets?  I don't think so.   Why not start new traditions, like the use of colorful LED lights or special July 4th drones, with special lightning?

It is time that society gets serious about banning personal fireworks.


Raphael Bakin said...

I totally agree with what you're saying! Luckily, there have been towns like mine (Port Townsend) which have banned fireworks... for 14 years.

Northgate Nan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Evans said...

I agree completely.
But adding more penalties to already unenforced laws would likely do no good.
Here in North Beach, we closed out windows and doors last night and comforted the dog amidst the faux battle for independence outside.

mike helminger said...

totally agree with you here cliff. was thinking the exact same thing all night long on the 4th in our war zone further north...

DJL said...

Since when did you think the Seattle police would do something as silly as enforce the city's laws? Or the city government care about something as insignificant as fingers and limbs and homes? They have important things to do!

Russell Miller said...

I don't agree, though I understand your concerns. But I think if we wanted to put some research into it we could make them safer and less toxic. At that point we could do like we did with CFLs.

They are a traditional part of American life. I would hate to see that entirely go away. And I see you did not mention professional shows, which pollute just as much. If you're going to be consistent, you have to ban all of it.

I do think communities across the country could do a better job of making sure they are lit off in a more... socially aware... manner. Like don't fire them off after 10 or a guaranteed ticket, etc.

David Chuljian said...

Personally I loved them as a kid and the washington laws limiting them to the "safe and sane" variety caused much dismay. However, now that I set them off professionally and own two 80 acre tree farms, I have a different attitude. I should point out, though, that even pro shows create a lot of waterway debris, although in my show's case we can at least go back at low tide and pick up most of the metal and plastic--but over water is of course the easiest option. But the whole thing is just so American that it's hard to imagine a ban, and legislating safer use is like legislating common sense--not possibe, especially combined with beer ... Also many local fireworks sales fund high school trips or other projects, and the reservations like the income and will always be able to sell them. A no tolerance policy and stiff enforcement is worth a try but it will be like prohibition--if people don't support the concept, they'll keep breaking the law. So I am not optimistic. Oddly, in parts of Europe up to 5" shells are legal for private use. I don't know how this works out for injuries, but they almost certainly have fewer deaths from handguns to make up for it ... Another dangerous item we will never ban!

Farren Thorpe said...

I was actually thinking about this last night. Fireworks are only tolerated now by law enforcement because they are ingrained in our society and people have lived with it their whole lives. In this day of technology, we could make better products that are safe and quiet. Perhaps a silent smoke-less light display system could be developed? Something that doesn't need to be disposed of... similar to projecting lights around the neighborhood, which people do on Christmas... now let's do it for Independence Day!

Brooke said...

I completely agree!

MATT MIZ said...

Agreed 100%, but I can tell you from personal experience with the Council, they don't have the political stomach to take on the reservations and all the non-profits and community groups that sell these things to make $$$. That is despite the KC Fire Chiefs, RASKC and many others basically making the same case every year. So, we're going to tax soda, but air quality, fires and blown off hands are not really a problem. It's amazing they can say this stuff with a straight face despite the hypocrisy involved.

There could be pragmatic solutions, like strictly enforcing the laws. I'd be just fine with July 4 and legal fireworks, if it was limited to that. Maybe only do same-day sales to discourage trucking in from Boom City. Maybe hold the Boom City people accountable for anything not detonated on their property (b/c let's face it, THEY KNOW). The bigger issues for me are June 28-July 3 and the fact that so many people are breaking the law, KCSO either gives up or looks the other way - maybe both - and the fact that basically no one has legal fireworks, it's all trucked in from Boom City, all incredibly illegal stuff. Just north of my home, there are people on .2 acre lots firing 100' airburst shells into the trees, basically, absolutely no control over where the things blow up or land. Two years ago we actually had a couple of trees on our property catch fire toward the top. Better still, 911 was so overloaded we couldn't get ahold of fire or police. I really wish Dow Constantine or anyone on the KC Council could explain to me how that is a good thing. Mostly they just ignore me.

John Marshall said...

You can't make a dent in fireworks use by passing local laws on consumer behavior. The only way to get rid of them is to make them illegal to import and sell. Very few are made in America.

In some ways, I see fireworks and firearms through the same lens. They both have ties to visions (and myths) about our formation as a country, and they are often viewed as a celebration of our national freedom, and neither can be adequately controlled by telling people how to use them responsibly or by simple reasoning ("they're dangerous").

Our nation was formed in war and violence amid a lot of very loud and bright explosions. The fact that we still celebrate that with more loud and bright explosions (and danger) is a uniquely American paradox.

We either have to live with both of them as part of our "founding myths", or we vigorously eliminate all sources of them with a zero-tolerance policy. Anything less is just adding more hot air to the discussion. Nothing significant will change and every year we'll hold a post-mortem after the 4th as we are here.

Ted Berry said...

I totally agree, we live in an age of very little self restraint and consideration of our environment which includes all the wildlife, domestic animals and the very air we breathe.
I too had to comfort my dog for 2 hours will this debauchery played itself out. Personally I don't hold out much hope for change considering the mentality and mindset of our society.

Eric Jain said...

> Perhaps a silent smoke-less light display system could be developed?

Give it another 10 years or so, and everyone will be setting off Augmented Reality fireworks they purchased on Facebook. The only injuries will be from the occasional phone catching fire :-)

Bob Triggs said...

Cliff, you can add wildlife, birds, etc., to the list of those negatively affected by fireworks.

Ozoner said...

If the 24-hour average national particulate matter pollution standard is exceeded, the local regulatory air agency for an area has some 'splainin to the EPA to do because the district could be declared "non-attainment" for that pollutant. If that declaration is set in motion, the local agency must put rules or measures into place to bring the pollutant back into attainment status.

But we are now a culture of strategic patience and long fuses with a low expectation for obeying existing laws, especially if they do not suit us or call for some unpopular action.

Peter terHorst said...

Well said Cliff. When we moved to Portland OR in 2011, I was shocked at how much craziness and fire danger was tolerated within the city limits, on city streets, each year over the July 4th holiday weekend. Sounds like Seattle is no different. "War Zone" is an apt description! Not saying other cities have it all sorted out, but I've lived in the DC area, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Denver, LA and Asheville and -- aside from backyard fireworks with sparklers, black cats, spinners and stationary fountains -- most people just went to parks and other outdoor venues to enjoy professionally staged shows.

Michael DeMarco said...


Stephen Murdock said...


According to your source (, only 7% of the estimated 11,000 fireworks-related injuries treated at hospital emergency departments in the U.S. could have been qualified as "serious injuries" ( i.e. those injuries which required admission to the hospital or transfer to another hospital. Injured persons who are treated at the hospital and then released most certainly have not received a "serious injury".

The CDC reports that, last year, there were 37.2 million emergency room visits in the U.S. due to injury and 12.2 million emergency room visits which resulted in hospital admission, not all due to injury ( Thus, fireworks-related injuries resulted in only about .03% of emergency room visits due to injury and only about .006% of hospital admissions via the emergency room last year. Also, according to your source, there is not a statistically significant trend in estimated emergency department-treated, fireworks-related injuries from 2001 to 2016.

According to FEMA, there were about 1.3 million fires in the U.S. in 2014 and according to your source (, about 15,600, or 1.2% of these, were caused by fireworks (2013).

While I would not argue that fireworks do not produce air pollution, I don't know if I would consider the particulate pollutants that result from fireworks to be a "serious" source of air pollution in Western Washington. According to the graph you posted, the PM2.5 spike lasted from about hour 20 on July 4 to hour 8 on July 5, about 12 hours, in total. I would imagine that the beleaguered (with regard to air pollution) citizens of the Los Angeles area and the Central Valley of California would consider this to be a break from what they're accustomed to at this time of year (

Two of your final three points come off as grasping at straws and I won't bother to counter them. However, I would agree that those of us who have combat veterans as neighbors should show them the respect they deserve and not use fireworks in close proximity to their residences if it's possible that such usage might cause them further trauma.

Overall, I noticed that you seem to consider fireworks to be a "serious" problem. I would argue that you are off base in your empirical claims about the "seriousness" of the danger that fireworks represent. You may personally dislike fireworks but that doesn't make them so awful and dangerous that those of us who enjoy them and enjoy them responsibly should have our parades rained on, so to speak. A couple nights a year shouldn't be that big a deal so relax a bit and don't take life so "seriously."

Unknown said...

What a bunch of nannies! Fireworks are fun and it's a short holiday. My dog doesn't like it, but I keep him in the house and he gets over it the next day.

MyBadCats said...

We should all be worried because fireworks are made in China. Does it sound so far fetched that they would purposefully make them dangerous as a form of soft warfare against our country? And I am NOT a Trump supporter who believes in "America First" just in case that is where your thoughts are going.

As for the Port Townsend person, I too in live PT, though not in town. We were subjected to Woodland Acres fireworks all through the night of the 4th and last night as well.

jjberg83 said...

Perhaps they can do something about the toxicity of the smoke. And people need to be responsible about cleaning up their waste afterwards, the lazy bums.

But remember- we were here lighting off fireworks and watching the Blue Angels scream over our heads before all you Microsofties arrived. Seattle was never supposed to be a silent retirement spot just for introverts and their dogs.

Elston Hill said...

The City of Burien announced a tough policy this year with a fine of just over $100. Nothing changed. No one cares about a $100 fine. How about raising the fine to $2000 and or a week in jail?

evie said...


Eric Blair said...

I was hoping to get away from that kind of madness, but it's no different here in Portland than it was in Chicago. The monster fireworks began Friday evening, and continues on to last night's festivities. I can see fireworks for a few hours on the 3rd, but to countenance this crap going on for over four days is insane, particularly in big cities with houses being so close together. Having been blasted out of my bed at 4 AM for days on end, it's the kind of thing that could lead to real violence. Some of us have to work on the weekends and there are still night shifts around, it's not right.

evie said...


Ashford98304 said...

Here are a few common, only sometimes-some places illegal, obnoxious practices: personal fireworks; smoky yard, garden, & debris fires; loud, obnoxious after-market motorcyle exhaust pipes; loud diesel pickups with loud exhaust pipes; incessant shooting of high-powered handguns and rifles at all hours of the day and night . Some would say it is the cost of living in our society. I say it is because we have evolved a society with no norms of respect for one's neighbors only norms pertaining to self-absorption, self-indulgence, and flashing the middle finger. In my view, personal actions of almost any kind are none of my business unless the results of those actions extend beyond that person's property onto another's: intrusion of lound noise, noxious chemicals, bright lights, smoke, barking of dogs, errant dogs ... when they leave your property (or public land) and enter mine you are infringing on my rights to life, liberty, and happiness. So, we will just continue with increasing anger, frustration, violence, and those others will cling to their "bibles and guns" (Barack Obama) while being totally antisocial.

Lucas Flanders said...

Yes. Never agreed with you more!

ironist said...


I have a very personal story to tell as a veteran. Can you help with anonymity?


Rebecca Timson said...

I would love it if the 4th was no longer celebrated with explosives. But yes, please, at least restrict it to public displays managed by professionals.

Rebecca Timson said...

Stephen, your method for determining the seriousness of the number of injuries is flawed. You are showing the number of ER fireworks injuries in a three to five day period as a percent of all ER injuries in a year. Of course this makes the % small, but it isn't a useful comparison. On those three to five days, the % of injuries caused by fireworks is considerably higher. I know some folks enjoy setting off these explosions themselves, rather than leaving it to professionals, but many of those injured are children. Perhaps we can at least agree that it should be illegal to set off fireworks around children, who cannot give informed consent.

RonnieA said...

Totally agree.

In Singapore, fireworks were banned due to the litter caused and countless fires started.
The entire state of WA should ban fireworks.

Cliff Mass said...

The viewpoint of veterans is very important. You can either set up a separate gmail account that does not identify you or you can send it to me and I can post it without any identifying information. Or even send it to my department (box 351640, UW, 98195)...cliff

Cliff Mass said...

The viewpoint of veterans is very important. You can either set up a separate gmail account that does not identify you or you can send it to me and I can post it without any identifying information. Or even send it to my department (box 351640, UW, 98195)...cliff

Tommy Matala said...

I gotta disagree - fireworks should not be banned outright. However, folks should be considerate and cease fire by 10pm and be limited to just the 4th of July and New Year's. I haven't slept a full night since June 26th!

As I write this from my home near Burien at 1:34a, people are still lighting mortar shells a 1/4 of a mile or so away.

Organic Farmer said...

Personally, I don't support a blanket fireworks ban. That should be up to individual communities to decide!

Communication with your family and neighbors, fostering, respect and responsibility with in your neighborhood is always a good thing for society.

Don't forget Freedom has steep price, and we each have a responsibility as citizens.

Why is the June 15 NOAA long range prediction so 100% wrong when it come to not seeing the drought in eastern Montana and the Dakota's?

I understand it is a probability, but it seems to be frequently off by alot.

As a farmer, it is critical to have better seasonal predictions.

It seems the old farmers almanac is more accurate than all the fancy government scientists at NOAA??!

What's up with that?

Anon the Great said...

I have little patience with the 'well, we've always done that' defense of stupid things we like or want to do. The list of things 'we've always done' but no longer do is long, even limited to my 50+ years on this Earth. The way I think about it personal fireworks are like drunk driving: A incredibly stupid, dangerous activity this nation largely tolerated decades until the body count got too high. When Rez Boom Towns began in the late 70's the population of Washington State was half of today and much more rural. Simply put, there were a lot less people blowing sh*t up in a lot more open space. Times change.

The over-whelming source for the kind of pyro that shreds bodies and torches property are Indian reservations. Back in the Bad Old pre-casino days Boom Towns were a major cash source for desperately impoverished native Peoples but the economics have changed. Perhaps it is now possible for Tribal government to be able to end Boom Towns without taking food from the mouth of children.

Stephen Murdock said...

Rebecca, good catch, but a change of a few orders of magnitude in this case still leaves us with a percentage in the low single-digits.

Jon Morgan said...

I am a pet sitter with autism (sensitive hearing, sight, smell...) and PTSD. More pets go missing on Independence Day than any other day of the year. Sadly, some never return. The knowing, willful cruelty of neighbors who insist on breaking the law around me knowing how seriously it affects vulnerable populations is simply astonishing and disillusioning. It is antithetical to empathy and community. My mom is a retired hand therapist who always saw lots of new patients with missing digits after July 4th each year. Thank you for this. It's time to enforce the law and leave fireworks to the professionals.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

Totally agree. I just wish the cops would enforce the bans in places like Kirkland, etc. Booze and fireworks--and the two go hand in hand--are not a good combo.

mainstreeter said...

Two business owners who lost their buildings due to fireworks in Oakville doesn't sound like freedom or responsibility

Richard said...

There was not much problem till the concussion grenades and shock-and-awe stuff took over, over the last twenty years or so. When people are losing sleep every night and drugging their pets to get them through the week, things are way, WAY out of hand. The fireworks industry and their customers are doing this to themselves, and I have no sympathy for 'em. If you're causing people to suffer in the name of "patriotism," you must have missed a day in Civics 101.

Port Angeles banned personal fireworks last year; Sequim does it next year. Not gonna pretend that everyone's over it, or that compliance is perfect. But life on the Fourth has already gotten a lot easier.

Rufus T. Firefly said...

I completely agree. There is no reason for personal fireworks. They scare many pets to death. They cause fires and severe injuries.

Hoover Boo said...

Mostly they are illegal in my area. A few cities still allow them, so people that want them go to those cities to buy them and then bring them home to where they are illegal.

The real reason they go on being legal at least in my area is that the importer works with local charities (boy scouts, little leagues, that type of thing) who fund raise by selling them, to pressure local city councils into allowing their sale. "You are anti-little league? You hate kids!!"

The fire authority pressures the local city councils the other way, because they have to go deal with the fires, and the EMTs have to deal with the kids that have their hands blown off. (One nearby this year--whole hand is gone.) But the fireworks importers have more clout.