It’s time to move past nostalgia, ban unsafe fireworks in Camas

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

Though they may hold nostalgia for many Americans, fireworks bans are becoming more common as community leaders better understand the health and environmental dangers associated with these devices filled with gunpowder or highly combustible chemicals.

At least 18 states have laws on the books that only allow the personal use of “safe and sane” fireworks, or those that are not explosive and do not fly into the air. Many states, including Washington, allow jurisdictions to set their own fireworks rules and one state — Massachusetts — has banned the sale, use and possession of personal fireworks.

“Leave fireworks to the professionals,” Massachusetts tells its residents on its website. “Fireworks are illegal in Massachusetts because they are dangerous.”

The state details the dangers of personal fireworks, noting that there were nearly 1,000 fireworks-related fires and explosions and dozens of injuries in the 10 years preceding the state’s decision to ban fireworks for good in 2020.

“These incidents caused dozens of injuries to firefighters and civilians, along with millions of dollars in damages,” the state noted. “In addition to injuries caused by fires and explosions, Massachusetts medical facilities have treated more than two dozen people for severe burn injuries directly from fireworks in the last 10 years. These reports reflect burns covering 5 percent or more of the victim’s body.”

And then there are the dangers posed by fireworks that don’t show up in the emergency call logs or at hospitals, including the environmental dangers.

“Chemicals from fireworks do not just disappear into thin air. When burned and exposed to oxygen, substances undergo a chemical reaction called combustion. This chemical reaction produces two results: Short-lived entertainment and toxic atmospheric pollutants,” according to an April 19, 2023 article published on the environmental news site, “The temporary enjoyment of fireworks releases a host of contaminants that affect air quality and can contribute to climate change, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter.”

Fireworks also pose a danger to pets and wildlife.

“The shock of fireworks can cause wildlife to flee, ending up in unexpected areas or roadways, flying into buildings and other obstacles, and even abandoning nests, leaving young vulnerable to predators,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife warns, adding that “the threat to wildlife doesn’t stop at startling lights and sounds; fireworks also have the potential of starting wildfires, directly affecting wildlife and destroying essential habitat. Litter from firecrackers, bottle rockets and other explosives can be choking hazards for wildlife and may be toxic if ingested.”

And anyone who has ever had a pet negatively react to fireworks knows exactly how frustrating it can be to have neighbors who care more about “having fun” on the Fourth of July than they do about the scared-out-of-their-mind dog down the street who has been shaking uncontrollably and hiding in the bathtub for the past two hours.

As one veterinary medicine professor told Ohio State University journalists in 2023, many pets may experience fireworks as the end of the world.

“Fireworks are often frightening for pets. They are so loud they sometimes vibrate the building or ground, are entirely unexpected and unexplained, and evolutionarily, sounds like that are threatening” because of their similarity to lightning strikes, the professor said. “Put together you have the perfect recipe for creating profound fear, or even phobias and a host of associated behaviors. For some pets, it really does feel like the world is ending.”

Communities throughout the Pacific Northwest have responded to citizens’ viable concerns by limiting or banning personal fireworks within their county or city boundaries. In Washougal, city leaders limited the sale and use of personal fireworks to just those deemed “safe and sane.” In Vancouver and Portland, personal fireworks are banned altogether.

But in Camas, the issue continues to pop up every single year. Camas officials gather community feedback in person and through surveys on the City’s Engage Camas website. They talk about how divided the community is … and then they put off any decision that might ban the types of not-safe, not-sane fireworks that endanger Camas’ people, animals, properties and environment.

Unlike their peers in Washougal, Vancouver and Portland, Camas officials seem beholden to those who support keeping outdated fireworks ordinances in place simply because it’s “tradition” or might ruin their Fourth of July block party. Even the testimony of veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder amplified by the war-like noise and explosions going off outside their homes on July Fourth and New Year’s Eve hasn’t swayed the Camas Council.

Many Council members have said they would either like to keep the status quo — which allows loud, aerial fireworks – or implement a sort of gradual regression of fireworks privileges, with few hours allowed or a limit on the most explosive mortars.

One community member who commented during the Council’s meeting Monday noted that the people setting off fireworks in Camas often take over the entire neighborhood block on the Fourth of July — causing other neighbors distress and making it difficult for people to drive or walk through their own neighborhoods.

These fireworks displays carry nostalgia for many, but that’s where they belong — in the past, as distant memories. To the Camas officials weighing “the fireworks issue” over the next several weeks, we urge you to catch up with the latest research showing the multitude of dangers posed by personal fireworks and join your peers in Washougal by taking a “safe and sane” approach to personal fireworks or your peers in Vancouver and Portland by banning the sale, use and possession of personal fireworks.