Fireworks Initiative to End Noise, Fire Danger

 The following article was submitted by Richard Maneval, who has been active on matters of neighborhood safety here in Bellingham for 19 years.  If you would like him to speak at an ENA meeting, just let me know and we can arrange it.

The noise goes on for weeks.  Summer nights punctuated with pops and booms, sizzles and whistles.  We wake up in the middle of the night, dogs running amok, wondering if the roof is going to catch on fire this time.  It’s time to stop the insanity.  465 signers of an online petition to ban personal fireworks have helped create an initiative to make it the law. Voters will make the decision in November, 2012.
When the population of Bellingham was smaller, so was the problem.  Houses were not so tightly packed together, neighbors generally knew one another and the July 4th celebration was an enjoyable family event.   With the explosion of growth (over 14,000 new residents in Bellingham in just the past 10 years), many people have become less tolerant of the noise, litter and danger involved with the holiday.  In fact, more than 50 other Washington State cities of all sizes have successfully banned the use of consumer fireworks.  Most recently, Olympia voters passed an advisory initiative in support of a ban.  The Spokane ban is 20 years old.
            But it’s not just people with PTSD, or skittish pets, or a need to get up early in the morning.  Fireworks are an environmental hazard, a fire and safety problem.  According to statistics, most fireworks injuries involve devices that are legal under current federal law.  The majority of those injured by fireworks are children under age 15.  In the spectrum of fireworks dangers, people rarely think of sparklers as a major hazard, but they reach a temperature of 2,000 degrees and cause 16% of the injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. That’s more injuries than were caused by rockets, and trails only the 17 percent caused by firecrackers, and the 19 percent caused by miscellaneous devices.
Environmentally, fireworks are a disaster.  Their smoke consists of fine toxic dusts, a particulate matter that enters the lungs, threatening those with asthma or multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). They can also contain a mixture of sulfur-coal compounds, traces of heavy metals, and other toxic chemicals or gases. The combustion cloud can contain harmful fumes such as ozone, sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide. Smoke from consumer fireworks is released at ground level, making inhalation more likely than with professional displays.  Fireworks produce greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and ozone and contribute to climate change.
Consumer and illegal fireworks are often shot over bodies of water, in the case of Bellingham, into the bay or parts of Lake Whatcom, the drinking water source for the city.  Spent sparklers and matches are tossed into the water after use.
Up until the past couple of years, the public was silent on this issue, until a petition was started online in April of 2010.  The core group of a half dozen fireworks ban supporters began growing immediately, especially right after July 4th. There are now 465 signers online, sharing comments and support.  From this group, a hard copy petition has been created and is currently on the street.  It bans all personal fireworks from the Bellingham city limits, but does not end public displays.  Once 5,000 legal signatures are obtained, it will be up for public vote on the November 2012, ballot.
There are those who say that the problem locally is lack of enforcement of the current laws.  Indeed, the first thing a 911 caller is asked is if the offending fireworks are legal or illegal.  If the caller doesn’t know, there is usually a lack of response from law enforcement.  Unless they catch someone actually in the act of lighting the firework, little can be done. If all fireworks are illegal, there will be no doubt in a caller’s mind.  In fact, with most people obeying the law, anyone breaking it will be obvious in a neighborhood.  The Freedom From Fireworks Bellingham Committee has contacted nearly every community with a fireworks ban, to be told repeatedly that the law works and has cut incidents of emergency and fire to a minimum.
If Bellingham passes a ban, the memory of fireworks will pass into the same place as smoking on planes and dumping raw sewage into rivers.
To get involved with the campaign or find a petition to sign in your neighborhood, email Petitions may be found locally at several veterinarians, dog groomers and pet shops.
For more information visit:
To express your opinion on the online petition, go to:
            About the Initiative:
“BALLOT TITLE:  Bellingham Initiative No. 2012-01 concerns the regulation of consumer fireworks within the City.  This measure would amend BMC 10.24.120, BMC 10.24.130 and BMC 17.20.070 to prohibit the manufacture, storage, transportation, sale, possession or discharge of consumer fireworks within the City.  This measure would make the penalty for the first violation of BMC 10.24.130 a civil infraction.  Second or subsequent violations would be a misdemeanor.”

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