Fireworks aren’t a blast for everyone

Pets, as one might expect, are terrified of anything that makes such a loud noise. Maybe you think it’s cute while they freak out; maybe you bust out a thundershirt and swaddle them. But what about the people you know who have been through trauma and may find fireworks triggering? Even I ooh and aah at fireworks most of the time, but there’s a cost: They damage not only the environment, but also the mental health of your furry and (maybe) less furry friends.


What is particulate matter, and why does it, well, matter? The Environmental Protection Agency defines PM as “a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets that get into the air. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects,” such as “coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, to asthma attacks, heart attack and stroke, and premature death in people with heart or lung disease,” according to EurekAlert’s review of an National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study. The risk is worse for kids and adults with pre-existing heart and lung issues.

Dr. Dian Seidel at the NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory compiled data from over 300 air quality monitoring sites across the United States from 1999 to 2013. This study was the first and widest of its kind, and it showed some problematic results: “Average concentrations over the 24-hour period starting at 8 p.m. on July 4 are 42 percent greater than on the days preceding and following the holiday.” PM concentrations of course varied from location to location, but with firework sales increasing and showing no signs of slowing down, just think of all that PM you’ll be breathing in this year.

And even without pre-existing conditions, you’re at a greater risk of heart attack by a whopping 5 percent. Cocaine, for example, increases a person’s risk of heart attack by 23 times, “but because so few people use the drug, it accounts for only 0.9 percent of heart attacks,” according to a meta-analysis of heart attack risk factors. Whereas with air pollution, everyone’s exposed, so the risk is greater.

While it’s been proven that fireworks don’t contribute to global warming, “many fireworks contain oxidisers known as perchlorates, [which] can dissolve in water, contaminating rivers, lakes and drinking water,” according to Science Focus. Are we getting the picture?

Mental health

“If you are a veteran, on the one hand July 4th should be one of the most patriotic holidays that you feel a part of,” said Dr. John Markowitz, psychiatry professor at Columbia University to Time Magazine. “On the other hand, the rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air are likely to evoke traumatic memories, and you might want to hide. It’s a tricky one.”

War veterans aren’t the only people who experience post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. What is revered as the Bible of diagnostics, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines PTSD with a variety of criteria, but in short, someone could just be exposed to death or sexual violence by hearing about it. That event combined with other triggering events that follow and symptoms that last more than a month equal PTSD.

People with childhood trauma can experience PTSD later in life by going through a traumatic experience, and people exposed to trauma even once can experience PTSD. If you think you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms, please contact a health service provider.

As someone who has never been to war but experiences PTSD, panic attacks and acute anxiety, I never really know what is going to trigger a panic or anxiety attack (note: not the same thing). Sometimes it’s something most people would find relatively minor, like the sound of footsteps behind me, but I think most people can understand the chest-reverberating sound of fireworks can be not only terrifying but triggering. I tend to watch fireworks on TV, but I’m sure there are people who hide away indoors on the Fourth to avoid any incident.

I’m not saying you can’t enjoy yourself; please do. There are many reasons to be grateful for our independence from what now feels like an ancient tyranny, and in our current social, political and economic climate, this can be a holiday where we join together to remember we are all one people founded on the ideas of pluralism and freedom. But watch your pets, stay upwind from the gunk that will be in the air, and look out for your friends who say they don’t like fireworks. They may just have an environmental issue, but they also might have something else going on.