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I Love Fireworks, But It’s Time to Grow Up: Do It For Toby

7:41 PM PDT on July 3, 2019

    The lil’ homie Toby. Photo by Erick Galindo

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he loudest and most air-polluted day in Los Angeles is upon us.

    While the authorities and the local news channels advise that there is a tight crackdown on illegal fireworks all over L.A. County this year, we all know that no matter how hard they try and no matter how many of those print-yourself warning signs that NIMBYs prop up on their yards, people will risk it all for the thrills of feeding their inner-child and pyromaniac.

    But I come bearing a personal decree: It’s time to grow up and stop—literally—burning your hard-earned money in the name of a country that is currently caging children and penalizing good Samaritans who help people crossing the desert.

    The defense is that blowing up illegal fireworks is fun, part of our culture now as Mexican-Americans, and this is how I grew up celebrating this day. But take a moment now to think about the meaning of this holiday. Do you really want to celebrate it right now? I was born here and I’m grateful for the opportunities that my country has given to my family but here’s a hot take for a world that should be reeling after living through the hottest month of June on record: The 4th of July is bad for the environment, bad for smog in L.A., and the illegal fireworks scare the shit out of man’s best friend everywhere.

    You know all that ash that shows up on top of cars the day after? We are breathing in that stuff.

    I live in Southeast Los Angeles. The cuetes here have been popping since the Dodgers won the pennant. And I’ve been getting air quality notices for weeks now. It’s L.A. so it comes with the territory, but the recent frequency is noteworthy. And it’s about to get worse.

    “Fine particulate matter levels on July 4th and July 5th are typically among the worst days of the year,” says the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “The smoke and combustion products from fireworks add to the fine particles already present in the Basin that are primarily caused by motor vehicles, as well as fugitive dust and industrial emissions.”

    Air quality in the region is never stellar, but starting tomorrow, the skies in Southern California will be lit and burnt to the point that the South Coast AQMD issued a strong warning. It states that we may reach “the Very Unhealthy air quality category or higher, due to fireworks-related to Independence Day celebrations,” and specifies that “the use of personal backyard fireworks also contributes to this air pollution and can further increase how much air pollution a person is breathing.”

    Every mortar shell, M-80, bottle or skyrocket, and any variant in between that goes BOOM is the equivalent to a form of torture for an animal that can hear more than four times better than a human’s hearing. 

    L.A. Taco reached out to Olga Ospina, the Media Manager for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, to find out what hours are the worst to be out. She let us know via email that “PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) concentrations typically start to rise during the early evening on July 4th and stay elevated overnight and through the morning of July 5th.” She also kindly made me aware of the official website that the SCAQMD uses to check the most accurate and up-to-date air quality readings on a region-by-region basis.

    You know all that ash that shows up on top of cars the day after? We are breathing in that stuff. “Fireworks are known to emit high levels of particulate matter as well as metal air pollutants, all of which can contribute to negative health effects,” says the Air Quality Agency. 

    Kumar Appaiah/ Flickr
    Kumar Appaiah/ Flickr

    Some of those toxins never disintegrate. They become part of the air we breathe. I’m not going to get into the fire on what is looking like another record-breaking fire season or the idiots who accidentally burn down trees, but last year on the night of 4th of July, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to 667 emergencies until the next morning, and they took more than 200 people to a hospital.

    They also add to our carbon footprint at a time when we need to be subtracting from that. The chemicals that don’t stay in the air fall onto the floor, seep into the soil or wind up in beaches, rivers, lakes, and drinking water even. According to a report by environment watchdog Terrapass, “Many of the raw materials used to create fireworks are mined from mountains, a destructive process that cuts down forests and destroys wildlife habitats.

    It’s the worst day for our four-legged companions that must wonder why we insist on ruining a day filled with perfectly good carne asada scraps that fall to the floor.

    When you calculate everything that needs to go into the business: sourcing, producing, transporting, selling. And add to that the customer side: driving all the way to Nevada to buy the fun ones that explode in the sky (where they are legal), buying, and blowing shit up. The footprint expands more each year. There are alternatives to the carbon expanding, chemical parade, Terrapass points out. “In Sydney, Australia, for example, the city’s famous fireworks display (it’s always the first one to go off!) is 100 percent carbon neutral.”

    My dog Toby knows, and I’m sure if you have a dog and live in any ‘hood parts of Los Angeles, he or she knows it too. Every mortar shell, M-80, bottle or skyrocket, and any variant in between that goes BOOM is the equivalent to a form of torture for an animal that can hear more than four times better than a human’s hearing. 

    I don’t need an agency to tell me how brutal it is going to be. My dogs tell me this. The 4th isn’t just the worst day for the air we inhale, it’s the worst day for our four-legged companions that must wonder why we insist on ruining a day filled with perfectly good carne asada scraps that fall to the floor by blowing shit up on such a hot day. 

    To which I say, “Well, Toby, this is America.”

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