Chemicals in firework debris harm waterways and wildlife if left on Lincoln streets

Chemicals in firework debris harm waterways and wildlife if left on Lincoln streets
Published: Jul. 4, 2020 at 10:52 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Lincoln neighborhoods are often a mass the day after the Fourth of July with firework debris scattered across cities and streets. This is more than an eyesore, it’s a danger to Lincoln’s waterways and the wildlife they support.

"There's way more wildlife than people think," Erin Kubicek, environmental health educator for the City of Lincoln said. "There's fish and frogs, aquatic insects that provide food for fish and frogs, aquatic birds like ducks, geese and herons."

All of those animals suffer when firework debris is left to wash down storm drains and into streams.

"Fireworks have chemicals, explosives, oxidants and metals and those things are released into the environment," Dan Snow, a lab director with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said.

One chemical in particular, called perchlorate, is the city's biggest concern.

It’s used in fireworks, and while it’s naturally occurring, it can be toxic at low levels.

“It, in particular, interferes with thyroid function so it can harm fish and frogs swimming in it,” Kubicek said.

A study the city and UNL did a few years ago looked at Oak Lake after the city's firework displays and found perchlorate and other chemicals had been added during the show.

Long term, this can be a problem.

"You could see different fish or insects affected," Snow said. "You'll see fewer fish if exposure increases or the duration of exposure increases, you're going to have less wildlife in the water."

A few different things can help.

First, moving fireworks shows away from water.

Second, simply picking up fireworks debris so it doesn't get washed away.

"Remember, we're not the only ones using this water," Snow said. "There's plenty of wildlife that need fresh clean water."

Hot fireworks should go in a bucket of water or sand until cooled then placed in the trash.

Kubicek said to take the time to sweep up even the small pieces of debris because they contain these chemicals as well.

"I don't think this is cause to not enjoy fireworks, just be responsible in addition to being safe," Snow said.

The city is taking this campaign to social media to help spread the word.

Snap a picture of yourself picking up debris and post in on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and tag the accounts @KLLCB and @LTULNK to spread the word.

If you need to dispose of unused fireworks, the Lincoln Bureau of Fire Prevention is holding a free drop-off at Oak Lake on Monday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

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