I won’t make any new friends with this column and might lose some old ones, but today I join the growing legion of people calling for a ban on fireworks. Fireworks, like illicit drugs, deliver a spectacular, illusory high, but the real effects can be devastating to people, pets and the planet.

Nothing I write here will stop thousands of San Antonians on July 4 from thronging to Woodlawn Lake, Six Flags Fiesta Texas or SeaWorld for the annual fireworks displays. Still, however unpopular, a ban is something community leaders need to seriously consider.

Meanwhile, thousands of at-home celebrants will light the night sky with their own purchased skyrockets and missiles — despite a ban declared by the Bexar County fire marshal because of severe drought and fire hazard conditions here. Individuals face a $500 fine, but enforcement capabilities are limited.

All of Bexar County is under an “extreme drought” warning. The lack of rainfall this year has made this eighth-driest year to date in the past 128 years.

The fear of dangerous wildfires, like the one that devastated Louisville, Colorado, last year, has caused multiple cities in that state to ban fireworks displays this year.

Even if rains were to break the drought in South Texas, there are other reasons to ban personal use of fireworks and end the public celebrations.

Thousands of children and adults are injured and end up in hospital emergency rooms each year due to mishandled or misfired fireworks. A small number of people die from fireworks injuries every year, according to data compiled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Those fatalities are completely preventable.

A CPSC report issued Tuesday reported a 25% increase nationally in fireworks-related injuries between 2006 and 2021. Many of the injured were children burned by sparklers or other handheld fireworks, or injured while in the vicinity of careless or inebriated adults mishandling fireworks.

Anyone with a pet dog knows the fear and anxiety canines experience when the night skies fill with fire and explosions. Pet owners can keep pets inside homes to prevent them from fleeing in panic while outdoors, preferably in a windowless room. Even then, with soft music playing or the presence of owners in the room, the pets are terrified and subjected to hours of inhumane treatment. Wildlife fares no better.

Brisket, a Rivard family dog, takes refuge underneath a coffee during a fireworks display in 2021.
Brisket, a Rivard family dog, takes refuge underneath a coffee table during a fireworks display in 2021. Credit: Courtesy / Monika Maeckle

What right do we celebrants have to torment animals in pursuit of entertainment?

Finally, fireworks debris is terrible for the environment, beyond the fear of fires. Noxious chemicals used in the manufacture of commercial fireworks pollute the air and surface water. The particulate matter and allergens generated from fireworks make worse the city’s already high allergy levels and contribute its worsening ozone nonattainment status.

One unexpected positive to takeaway from the global supply chain crisis is the reduced availability of imported fireworks and the subsequent increase in cost for consumers traveling outside the city limits to purchase fireworks for personal use. Fireworks manufacturers in developing countries routinely experience tragic factory explosions that take the lives of poorly paid workers meeting the demand for fireworks in the United States.

It’s one more reason public officials and individual consumers should rethink the annual traditions of fireworks on July Fourth and New Year’s Eve.

Like many in my generation, I’ve thrilled at the spectacle of fireworks shows. My family lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, and was present at New York Harbor for the epic Statue of Liberty Centennial fireworks celebration on July 4, 1986. Three years later, we had moved to San Antonio and watched from our balcony at the Plaza San Antonio as fireworks illuminated Hemisfair Park on New Year’s Eve. Mayor Lila Cockrell had appealed to private donors to keep the tradition alive at a time when city coffers were so low there were no public monies to fund the annual tradition.

In my years as editor at the San Antonio Express-News and then at the Rivard Report and San Antonio Report, I pushed for coverage of local fireworks displays, knowing the slideshows captivated people the next day. I’d like to think I continue to learn and grow in life.

Over the years, all of us have become much more attuned to the health and welfare of people, animals and the environment. Climate change is a scientifically established truth that fewer and fewer outliers still deny. Maintaining traditions from past decades is no justification for perpetuating unsafe and unhealthy practices into the future.

My family and our pets will leave the city for July Fourth, and while the Texas Hill Country doesn’t offer absolute refuge from fireworks, we will enjoy a safer and quieter holiday and dark skies illuminated only by a waxing crescent moon, the planets and the Milky Way. That’s the real spectacle that has entranced humanity as long as we have been here.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.