Around 10 p.m. on the Friday before the Fourth of July holiday, I was walking with a friend on U Street. We heard a popping sound behind us; someone was lighting some small fireworks from the sidewalk into the street. When they set off a second one, we heard a woman scream. Standing directly across the road, she’d been hit full-on with the sparks.
After seeing the woman walk off with her own group, my friend and I hurried on our way. But days later, the moment kept taking up space in my thoughts. It was unsettling to see something I’d always thought of as just fun and pretty lights suddenly turn into a danger.
That uneasy feeling made me look into it. Here’s what I found:
- Fireworks killed 11 people and sent over 10,000 to the ER in 2022, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- Both combat veterans and gun violence survivors have said the sounds can trigger harmful post-traumatic stress symptoms.
- Dogs, with their far-more-sensitive ears, hate the loud, unpredictable noises. According to the Humane Society, the panic can cause pets to run away or even fall ill.
- Fireworks regularly cause devastating impacts for wildlife like birds and squirrels.
- The National Fire Protection Association estimates that fireworks cause about 19,500 fires each year. From 1992 to 2015, more than 7,000 wildfires started in the U.S. on July 4, researchers found.
- Fireworks absolutely destroy air quality. D.C. in particular sees huge spikes in harmful particle pollution every year around July 4.
Those last two factors feel particularly pressing this year, given the wildfire smoke that left our region looking vaguely apocalyptic for several days last month. And lots of D.C. residents say they hear and see fireworks going off all summer, far beyond Fourth of July weekend.
Many jurisdictions have implemented — and enforced — strict regulations on fireworks. Personally, I’m a fan of Massachusetts’s policy, which allows professionals to put on shows but otherwise bans them. Some places have begun swapping fireworks shows for shape-shifting, flashing drone displays.
Here’s the conclusion I’ve reached: Fireworks are just not worth it. They’re beautiful and exciting and fun — but still not worth the price of our own health and the planet’s.