4 Reasons the 4th is Strange

Ransom Riggs

I hope you all enjoyed the Fourth of July last weekend. I know I did -- copious amounts of grilled food were eaten, fireworks were observed, independence celebrated. But I was also in a reflective mood this year, and I got to thinking about the way we celebrate this holiday. Perhaps you'll agree with me: in some respects, it's downright strange.

Traditional fireworks release lots of nasty heavy metals

Yeah, they're pretty, and symbolic, and they make nice loud gut-rumbling bangs in the night. Unfortunately, they also release heavy metals like barium, copper and potassium perchlorate into the environment, which can linger in the the air for days and have been linked to various cancers. In fact, much of the toxic fallout of these patriotic bombs bursting in air (and eventually collecting in the water and soil) is in violation of federal Clean Air Act standards. So what's the alternative? Laser light shows are wowable, and don't cause any pollution -- but if you simply must blow things up, at least go green. Disney, which puts on hundreds of fireworks displays every year at its theme parks, is currently filing patents for "clean" fireworks technology; let's hope they don't keep it to themselves.

Fireworks can burn down your neighborhood

Most people don't need to be told that a cherry bomb can take off a finger and a poorly-aimed roman candle can celebrate your eyeball right out of its socket. But even more serious disasters can and do happen, like this 2006 fireworks factory explosion in Denmark. It damaged 350 buildings, left one firefighter dead and six injured, and the resulting explosions sent shockwaves as powerful as a magnitude-2 earthquake through surrounding neighborhoods. 2,000 people living near the factory were evacuated from their homes.

What does it mean to stage a pretend war when we're fighting two real ones?

I don't have an answer to that question, but it did occur to me. Let us know what you think! Meanwhile, I like what author and former Floss writer John Green has to say on the subject.

Even ten million firecrackers blowing up at once don't look that cool

It's all been done before, the Guinness records have been set -- so how do we top last year's fireworks display? Usually, the answer is volume -- both in terms of the number of fireworks set off and in decibels -- as in this display of 10,500,000 firecrackers being ignited on a vertical string, at the 2006 fireworks convention in Appleton, Wisconsin:

If you don't have quite that many fireworks at your disposal, however, there's always the indisputable novelty value of doing something like shooting a thousand bottle rockets out of a broken toilet: