Fireworks are a popular way of paying special attention to events. The effects of the enormous noise and flashing lightning storm and the consequences of the pollutants trickling from the sky and their accumulation in the soil and water have hardly been investigated so far.
Fireworks have been a traditional and popular way of celebrating outstanding events with something very special for centuries. In earlier years this was actually only common at the turn of the year, but in recent years “colorful fireworks” have increasingly been carried out in the further course of the year at every anniversary, village and town festivals, major sporting events, music festivals, weddings, and even at the end of Sunday shopping. With more and more spectacular, higher and longer events, the providers outdo each other. For many people, these events represent a considerable burden. Tour operators are increasingly offering “guaranteed bang-free New Year’s in romantic locations”. The further effects of the enormous noise and flashing lightning storm and the consequences of the pollutants that subsequently trickle down from the sky and their accumulation in the soil and water on animals and plants are hardly known.
As soon as the new year begins – usually a few hours beforehand – millions of people are on the street and the bang begins. Rockets, firecrackers and much more are filled with toxic chemicals and blown up without thinking about the consequences for humans and the environment. In city centers, parks and pedestrian zones you can hardly see your hand in front of your eyes, acrid smoke wafts through the streets. The Federal Environment Agency has repeatedly pointed out the harmful effects of smoke. In connection with the chemical cocktail trickling down, this leads to burning eyes, respiratory and circulatory problems in people, as the particulate matter pollution in particular is alarmingly high. In large cities in particular, the limit values for this are exceeded by far more than 100 times and even days later by a multiple. However, since the number of fireworks increases by leaps and bounds in places of great tourist importance, this also applies accordingly to recreational regions or places, e.g. on the coasts. Instead of fresh air there is something with the chemical club on the mucous membranes and in the lungs! In the meantime, the topic is also perceived more critically by the public. Particularly in connection with the debate about manipulated diesel vehicles and their excessive emissions of nitrogen dioxide, the pollution from fireworks is moving further into focus. A majority of the population is in favor of a ban on New Year’s Eve bangs, at least in larger cities.
The chemical cocktail trickles quietly
In addition to black powder, which is still often used, a confusing variety of substances such as nitrates, chlorates and perchlorates (these are oxygen-rich metal salts) of the elements sodium (yellow flame color), potassium (pale- colored) are used for light, smoke, whistling and other pyrotechnic effects violet), strontium (red) or barium (green) are used. Other components include Lead, arsenic, aluminum, PVC, sulfur and, in smaller quantities, iron, copper, titanium, antimony and zinc compounds, but also many unknown compounds, the residues of which trickle down from the sky. A frightening pollution! Pulmonologists point out that this smoke contains fine dust particles with many metal compounds, which, due to their small diameter of a few micrometers, penetrate deep into the lungs and cause inflammatory reactions there. Around 500,000 tons of fireworks are blown up every year – and the trend is rising! Especially after the annual, area-wide New Year’s Eve fireworks, rain or melting snow wash all the dirt down the gutters and gutters into the next receiving water, then into the next lake – effects unknown. Not to forget the considerable additional work involved in municipal street cleaning. This also raises the question of the whereabouts of the heavily contaminated residues taken up by the fireworks – isn’t that actually hazardous waste?
The environmental impact of the noise caused is also often underestimated. Firecrackers with names like “Apocalypse” or “MegaBang” can cause hearing damage, circulatory disorders, high blood pressure and stomach and intestinal problems as well as many other cannon blows and premium firecrackers. Especially small children, the elderly and the sick as well as pets should be supervised during the fireworks, as they particularly suffer from the bang. In one case that has become known, expensive riding horses standing in the neighboring paddock were panicked by private fireworks and some of them lost their way during the subsequent escape. sustained serious injuries.
Panic escape reactions among animals
The effects of fireworks on native flora and fauna are best known in relation to birds. What leads to “incomparable experiences” in the partying people and triggers the “perfect party mood” often means an enormous disruption of resting, sleeping, breeding and wintering areas with corresponding panic and stress reactions for the bird world. Ornithologists have always been able to observe the effects of the annual New Year’s Eve bang in neighboring protected areas “the day after”. Escape-like abandoned, empty resting places, which are otherwise always full of hibernating, resting flocks of birds or nervously fluttering, recognizably disturbed flocks of birds. And this at a time of year in which any unnecessary alarming of the animals should be avoided if possible in order to save the necessary energy reserves for the winter.
Endangerment of resting and resting places
Using new methods using weather radar, scientists were able to observe in real time how, on New Year’s Eve (the turn of the year 2007/8 to 2009/10), after the fireworks started, the startled birds literally fled in shock waves from the explosion. The results of the four-day investigations showed only slight bird activities in the next before and after, which typically subside in the first half of the night and only increase again in the morning. On New Year’s Eve, however, the night’s sleep is abruptly interrupted at midnight. The fireworks continued only interrupted by a short “champagne break”. Within a few minutes, the density of birds in the air space exploded. Thousands of birds rose en masse from their sleeping and resting places, often to great heights. In addition, the birds lose time to sleep and eat, which they now have to spend looking for new resting places. In many cases the birds left this region in densely populated areas. The birds in the Netherlands showed the strongest escape reactions in bodies of water and in wetlands, where there are numerous protected areas. All of this worsens the condition of the birds. The panic combined with noise and possible dazzling effects can also cause the birds to lose their orientation and even fly against obstacles.
Avoid fireworks during the breeding season
Fireworks can cause significant disruptions not only at the turn of the year. The burning down of fireworks during the year at village festivals, anniversaries or family celebrations in the immediate vicinity of e.g. Stork nests can cause adult birds to leave their nest or their young in panic. The clutches cool down, the eggs die, young birds starve to death or are beaten by birds of prey. One of the few documented cases took place in the district of Leipzig, where an eyrie with three young storks was abandoned by the adult animals in 2009 because fireworks were taking place in the immediate vicinity. Only one adult returned; the young fell prey to birds of prey.
Another example: In October 2019, a large firework display caused panic reactions among the tens of thousands of cranes resting there on the autumn migration, which spent the night on the island of Kirr, 7 km away. At other locations on the Darß, reactions of the cranes to smaller fireworks were observed up to 4 km away. If the birds are stressed by the effects and leave the roost, this means a considerable loss of energy, which reduces their efficiency for the onward flight to the breeding or wintering area.
But also from nature reserves, reserve officers report on vacant protected areas or hectic flocks of birds flying around after “colorful fireworks”. One can often only speculate about the precise effects on the breeding business or the fitness of the resting, moulting or wintering animals. Further investigations are urgently required here! In addition to birds and wild mammals, such as bats with their sensitive sensors, are likely to be affected by the effects of the ever increasing number of fireworks.
The ban on disruptions applies across the board
The bang can therefore represent a demonstrably significant, sometimes even life-threatening disruption for animal species such as birds, but also for bats. According to the Federal Nature Conservation Act, it is inadmissible: “… to significantly disturb wild animals of the strictly protected species and bird species during the breeding, rearing, moulting, wintering and migration periods.” the open landscape, but also in the settlement area.
From our point of view, it is therefore fundamentally necessary to refrain from fireworks in the vicinity of breeding grounds for birds and nurseries for bats. The presence of resting, moulting and sleeping areas in the immediate vicinity of the planned fireworks event must also lead to the failure of the permit in order to prevent significant disturbances of these species. In the vicinity of bodies of water, wetlands and protected areas, where there are frequent winter gatherings of birds or e.g. in the vicinity of winter sleeping places e.g. Rooks are also prohibited from fireworks.
Fireworks are not allowed in nature reserves as the strictest protection category of extensive nature conservation. In landscape protection areas, these are only permitted if the interests of the protected property (diversity, uniqueness and beauty of the landscape) are taken into account, i.e. it does not lead to damage to the natural balance, disturbance of tranquility in nature or impairment of the enjoyment of nature. A special permit must be applied for here in any case. In bird sanctuaries, especially in the vicinity or with bodies of water, various associations require planned fireworks to be subjected to a precise examination with regard to their compatibility with the conservation objectives of the protected area;
Demand preventive and mitigation measures
A firework display is usually a nature conservation permit. Not. A formal official participation procedure has not yet been planned for the approval of fireworks. Approval is the responsibility of the local regulatory authorities, which, according to the information available, only contact the higher-level lower nature conservation authority in individual cases. These then provide information about legal bases under nature conservation law (species protection, area protection), prohibitions and usually try to take preventive and mitigation measures such as To push fireworks without popping effects and less climbing height.
Due to the current legal situation, the issue of fireworks is difficult to enforce. For a regulatory action, the specific species protection disturbances and the direct connection with the fireworks would have to be proven – this should only be possible in exceptional cases. The same applies to the materiality threshold in area protection. And finally, the applicants like to refer in the application for larger, regularly repeated fireworks to existing, politically wanted and supposedly legal “fireworks traditions” against which it is often difficult to argue.
Education and information urgently needed
In an internet forum on the subject of fireworks the question is: “Who has experience with the (…) implementation of fireworks in the nature reserve (…)?” The answer “The problem is usually that the responsible lower nature conservation authorities Nature conservation associations participate as soon as an application is received and they are usually not very firework-friendly ”. What a surprise!
After a short, non-representative survey in the country, the competent authorities are technically able to position themselves in the case of applications. Some districts have already drawn up leaflets on the subject of “fireworks and nature conservation” or are about to be completed. There are already good papers in this regard in the neighboring federal states. As always, the decisive factor is the appropriate application of the existing legal provisions and the consequent refusal of permits in the event of faults that are to be assumed and verified. In addition, the information of the public on the subject of fireworks has so far been insufficient. In the past, private fireworks were strictly limited to New Year’s Eve, but now there is a lot of fireworks even on birthdays and other occasions. Not all of them adhere to the permit requirement or some municipalities are apparently quite liberal with it.
The considerable increase in corresponding events, unfortunately also in the vicinity of sensitive areas, will make a coordinated and consistent approach absolutely necessary in the future. We believe that further research into the effects of fireworks on the natural balance is urgently required.
Please be careful if you are hosting a fireworks display that you do not do these fireworks displays when the animals are resting. Please also make sure that no pop effects are used, these damage the natural system extremely severely. If you can, generally avoid fireworks and design your party differently, invest in more balloons or other decorations.