Jordi Casamitjana, the author of the book “Ethical Vegan”, talks about the harm fireworks do to sentient beings and explains why they should be banned
All traditions are temporary.
Although we like to think they are old customs that started up in immemorial times, most of them can be traced back to relatively recently — in the big scheme of things. And most traditions are no longer performed because they fell out of favour, they became irrelevant, they are no longer aligned with the values of those who used to follow them, or even they have become illegal — think human sacrifices, for instance.
I am sure the use of fireworks as a form of celebration is one of these traditions that will eventually disappear completely, for all these reasons. It only started in China during the Song dynasty just about 1 millennium ago, so we existed for much longer without needing them at all. However, today, in 2023, they are still very common everywhere in the world. From the US during the 4th of July celebrations, to India for the Diwali festival (passing through New Year celebrations around the globe) creating flashy controlled explosions are still a common way for people to party and celebrate milestones. Far more common than they should be, because we have already learnt for quite some time that they do more harm than good.
They are harmful to all types of sentient beings, and they should be banned.
Read this article to find out why.
Harmful to Wildlife
When fireworks are used, bees can become disoriented and may not return to their nests. The ash from the displays may interfere with the ability of bees to breathe, smell, and taste, as well as have other effects on their physiology. Bees are very sensitive to sounds, as they feel vibrations and sound waves so intensely it can throw them off track when flying. Fireworks can disorient them and cause them to be lost.
Fireworks can cause birds to suffer panic attacks and flee their nests or colonies, resulting in disorientation, injury, or death. Some birds may never return to their homes, leaving their young vulnerable to starvation or predation. In 2021, hundreds of birds were found dead in Rome’s streets after New Year fireworks displays. The International Organization for the Protection of Animals (OIPA) said the deaths appeared related to a particularly loud display of firecrackers and fireworks in the leafy neighbourhood that many birds use to nest.
Also, as fireworks are launched high in the air, they can hit birds directly. It is not uncommon for wildlife rehabilitation centres to fill up with traumatized, injured individuals days after fireworks were widely used. Fireworks can also disturb the migration patterns, roosting behaviour, and breeding cycles of birds.
A 2022 study tracked wild birds in three countries in Europe to examine the long-term impact of fireworks. The scientist tracked Arctic migratory geese in Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands for three weeks over the New Year period. They found that, on New Year’s Eve, birds suddenly leave their sleeping sites and fly to new areas further away from human settlements, resting two hours less than on nights without fireworks and flying sometimes up to 500 km non-stop. For all studied days after the New Year, geese spent more time foraging and never returned to their original sleeping sites.
Bats are also affected. A 2020 study in Canada found that the total bat vocalizations detected suggested a significant increase in overall bat activity occurred after fireworks displays, with a significant species-specific increase observed in hoary bats.
Fishes can also die after ingesting the toxic remains of firecrackers, which may fall on rivers or the sea. And, of course, fireworks can cause wildfires, even if they are launched from urban areas, killing thousands of wild animals.
Harmful to Companion Animals
Fireworks are very distressing events for most dogs. The explosions can emit sounds of up to 190 decibels which can lead to loss of hearing and tinnitus in many animals. Dogs have very sensitive ears and can hear up to 60,000 Hz. This auditory acuity of dogs is one of the reasons the sound of fireworks can be so harmful to them. Dogs are known to suffer irreversible hearing loss caused by proximity to the noise of gunfire. Also, repeated exposure to unexpected loud noises can cause phobias in many animals, increasing panic reactions to loud noises in the future.
In 2021, Guide Dogs Cymru from Wales revealed that a dog they were training was left paralysed in terror when fireworks were set off in front of him on a street in the Llanrumney area of Cardiff. In another incident, a dog at an animal shelter lost his teeth chewing on his kennel during a fireworks show in Loftus, Yorkshire.
The Dogs4Rescue dog shelter in Worsley was founded by Emma Billington in 2013 to rehabilitate dogs from across Europe in homes in the Manchester area. They are vulnerable rescue dogs, some paralyzed, some with epilepsy, and others are blind. On the night of 30th October 2021, a 20-minute fireworks show organized near Manchester City Airport terrorized many dogs in the shelter. Billington said one of his animals suffered a seizure due to the noise and others panicked, vomited or became “cowering in the corners.” She also said that a few years ago, one of the shelter’s dogs died of a heart attack after a fireworks display.
The effects of fireworks on cats are less obvious, but their responses are similar to those of dogs, such as trying to hide or escape.
The UK’s RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) said in 2022 that “in the last five years, we have received 1621 calls about fireworks and their effects on animals.” But being a welfarist organization, instead of calling for a ban, they push for responsible use. It is obvious that regulatory measures are insufficient, and an absolute ban on fireworks that produce noisy explosions is imperative.
Harmful to Farm Animals
Farm animals are greatly affected by fireworks, further increasing their immense suffering at the hands of humans. The loud noises can make them panic, causing them to run toward fences or walls, and they get hurt when they crash. Escaped animals are also at risk of being hit by a car if there are roads nearby. Herds may stampede after being spooked by fireworks.
Unlike companion animals, not all farm animals, many of whom are prey species prone to be spooked, can be brought indoors to be comforted and protected in the same way people do with cats and dogs, which means fireworks may affect them even more.
Intermittent noises can cause more welfare problems than general background noise. Research has shown that novel noises ranging from 80-89 dB increased the heart rate in pigs and prolonged exposure to noise levels above 100 dB increased the respiration rate in lambs.
Debris produced by fireworks can also pose a hazard to grazing animals if found on the land.
Horses can easily feel threatened by fireworks due to their hypervigilance since they are constantly on high alert due to possible predators. It is estimated that 79% of horses experience anxiety because of firecrackers, and 26% suffer injuries from them. In a survey on the management of horses during fireworks in New Zealand, running was the most frequent response to fireworks reported, 35% of respondents reported horses breaking through fences, and 26% reported their horses had received injuries due to fireworks (ranging from lacerations, strains and sprains to most serious of all, broken limbs, which most usually results in euthanasia).
Harmful to People
Fireworks can cause injuries, burns, and even deaths to people who use them or are near them. There were an estimated 11,500 injuries related to fireworks in the US in 2021 (since 2013 almost every year there have been more than 10,000 injuries). Children younger than age 15 accounted for 29% of those hurt by firecrackers in 2021.
In 2018, a 16-year-old male from Florida died after a mortar tube exploded in his hand on 5th July. According to the police report, the victim’s cousin lit the charge of a mortar and placed it in the tube and backed away. The victim then picked up the tube and held it in his left hand. As the cousin went to tell the victim to put the tube down, the tube exploded in the victim’s hand and knocked the victim down.
In the USA, fireworks started an estimated 12,264 fires in 2021, including 2,082 structure fires, 316 vehicle fires, and 9,866 outside and other fires. These fires caused 29 civilian injuries and $59 million in direct property damage.
The air pollution fireworks generate can also affect people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia.
Fireworks can affect the elderly, children, people with autism, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease, and other vulnerable populations. We should not forget that people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can get worse from the noise created by fireworks.
Harmful to the Environment
Burning fireworks produce CO2 contributing to our current climate crisis — and so do the wildfires they cause. The particles that fall to the ground during fireworks displays may contain toxic chemicals, and they may linger in our soil and water systems making them harmful to the humans and animals they come in contact with.
A 2022 study found that fireworks displays could be causing significant microplastic pollution in the River Thames, the river that goes through London, where many fireworks are used. The study found a 1000% increase of microplastics in the water from the sample taken on 30th December 2019 to the one taken 6 hours after the firework display on 1st January 2020.
During the five-day celebration of Diwali in India about 50,000 tons of fireworks explode, causing a toxic haze to cover cities with particulate matter (PM), a combination of minuscule solid and liquid substances found in the air. PM found in India’s air increased up to 35 times on celebration days when fireworks were present compared to normal days. Fireworks also increase harmful concentrations of carbon monoxide and nitric oxide. Researchers in the US discovered that the atmospheric concentration of carbon monoxide increased by 32% when fireworks took place in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. Carbon dioxide grew by 17%.
Perchlorate is a chemical compound often added to fireworks as an oxidiser to facilitate their upward propulsion. This chemical, which can affect the function of the thyroid gland, is one pollutant from fireworks often associated with contaminated soil and water. This chemical remains in the environment for a long time. Scientists with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Park Service found that perchlorate was found in soil where fireworks occurred and where debris settled.
Fireworks Are Not Vegan
When we ask ourselves if a product is vegan, we must answer three questions: 1) Are there ingredients or components of animal origin in the final product? 2) Were animals or animal ingredients used in the manufacture of the product? And 3) does using the product cause direct suffering to animals? In the case of fireworks, the answers to two of these questions make us conclude that, in most cases, conventional fireworks are not vegan.
First, the ingredients. During the manufacturing process, stearic acid is used in most fireworks, which is normally derived from animal fat. Stearic acid is a long-chain fatty acid that can be obtained from plants but is much more commonly derived from animals. It is used to coat metal powders, such as iron and aluminium, as it prevents oxidation and allows the powders to be stored longer. And the gunpowder from fireworks contains them. Theoretically, someone could create versions without animal stearic acid, but I don’t think anyone has commercialized them.
Second, the direct harm they cause to animals. The loud noise of a “mysterious” origin causes animals a lot of fear, affecting them in different ways (especially considering that many have much more sensitive senses of hearing than ours), and many die from the fires caused by fireworks displays.
There are low-sound or supposedly “silent” fireworks, but the truth is that they are not completely silent, and animals with very sensitive ears can still be frightened by hearing them (or by the flashes of light they create). In addition, these also use stearic acid of animal origin.
Between the ingredients and the harm they cause to sentient beings (including humans), it is clear that conventional fireworks are not vegan, and therefore using them is not vegan either.
All traditions are temporary, and fireworks have already had their day now,
Fireworks should be banned.