Camas should consider health of entire community, finally ban fireworks

A recent commenter on the city of Camas’ “Engage Camas” website succinctly summed up the annual “should they stay or should they go?” argument over personal fireworks.

This discussion is circular and useless at this point,” the anonymous commenter noted (probably after wading through the nearly 200 comments posted on the Engage Camas’ fireworks conversation page). “Some people point out the harm in fireworks, others wrap themselves in the flag or get sarcastic, but only few are actually trying to reason and trying to understand another’s viewpoint.”

That was pretty good, but the commenter had even more wisdom for their neighbors: 

“Good citizenship sometimes means giving up what you really want to do because it causes harm to fellow citizens,” they wrote. “Participants in this discussion have clearly described harm to them from the way the current fireworks policies are enacted: the threat of destroyed property, extra expense, disrupted peace of mind, and trauma to those suffering from PTSD. Even if those claims were only a small minority, surely their fear and pain and expense deserve consideration over others’ wanting to play with fire. It’s called good citizenship, and being a good neighbor. Find another way to enjoy the holiday — it’s a small thing to ask.”

If this were a Cheers & Jeers editorial, we’d give three Cheers to that commenter. 

Camas City Council members seem to go through the same process each year — ask for public input on fireworks, sit through (during non-pandemic years) at least an hour’s worth of public testimony and come to realize the community seems split down the middle when it comes to the future of fireworks in Camas, with half imploring their city leaders to do what many others in Clark County have done and finally ban the aerial fireworks that terrify wildlife and pets, cause undue distress to many veterans of war and pose fire risks, and the other half saying the fireworks are part of their family’s or neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July or New Year’s rituals and the city’s policy, which allows the personal use of aerial fireworks two days each year, should stay “as is.” 

When it comes to fireworks, Camas officials are unlikely to find a clear consensus either way — even if they, like this newspaper editor and likely the commenter quoted above, wade through each and every comment on the Engage Camas site. 

Therefore, city council members need to make a decision based not on popular opinion but on what most benefits the entire community. City officials should consider the public’s input, of course, but they also need to act on behalf of community members who can’t show up to testify in-person or online — including Camas’ pets, wildlife, environment and children and teens with autism, who may have much stronger adverse reactions to loud noises than their allistic peers.

Camas residents and city leaders often point to the city’s unique “small town feel” when listing the benefits of living in this area. In keeping with that small town feel, Camas leaders should do what was so common years ago and throw a community party on the Fourth of July and maybe even on New Year’s Eve, with a community fireworks show for those who love them — and a well-enforced ban on personal fireworks (or maybe everything but “safe and sane” fireworks) for the sake of everyone else. 

City leaders should also consider the environmental impact of traditional fireworks, which are made of harmful plastics, chemicals and heavy metals that poison the air, land and water and, according to some studies, lead to an increase in hospital admissions for asthma and other breathing difficulties in the days following a big, community fireworks show. 

Fortunately, there are more environmentally friendly pyrotechnics available these days, including fireworks that are free of perchlorate, a potential thyroid disruptor that can pollute bodies of water. These fireworks may cost the city more, but will cost less in terms of environmental and human health in the long run. 

During non-pandemic years, the city of Camas draws hundreds of residents to its summer movies in the parks and other family friendly outdoor events. It would be wonderful if the city’s leaders also could find a safe, fun way to celebrate the Fourth of July as a community. 

The first step, though, is to ban the sale and use of personal fireworks (or all those except “safe and sane” fireworks) inside the city limits. 

Secondly, city officials must agree to enforce the ban — perhaps using fines to offset the additional enforcement costs — because an unenforced ban is just one more way of sticking it to community members who are beyond fed up with not only their fireworks-obsessed neighbors who refuse to consider that their “rights” might be stomping on others’ health and well-being, but also by Camas city officials who have been kicking a fireworks ban down the road for far too long.