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The Case against Fireworks

09 April 2013, 16:45

Every year, the primitive tradition of setting fuses alight in order to create explosions is sanctioned by Government. It seems strange that various minorities' beliefs are respected while the rights of people who prefer peace and quiet are not.

It seems that instead of consideration towards others and respect for the law, many people seem to have embraced the attitude that entertainment trumps the law and our Constitution, violating the right we have to peace and quiet in our own homes by lighting invasive fireworks that not only produce very loud noises in contravention of noise nuisance laws, but also cause domestic animals in suburbs to be fearful, often resulting in a ‘fight or ‘flight’ state of panic during which they become lost or are hurt or killed. In many cases this is done in flagrant disregard for laws that explicitly outlaw such an activity.

The Law

The Laws have improved in many Municipalities. But in many others, they are so badly written that they offer loopholes to members of the public to exploit. What gives these lawmakers the right to marginalise the rights of some people – those who prefer peace and quiet and those who love animals – because there are others who think self-indulgence is more important than fundamental rights? There is NO provision in the Constitution for the ‘right to entertain oneself at the expense of the rights of others’, nor should there be.

The Lawmakers are therefore guilty of contravening the principles of the Constitution by not defending the rights of the minority that don’t regard fireworks as ‘fun’. They are also guilty of contravening the Animals Protection Act by providing the public with the means to terrify animals under protection of the law.

The law must be reasonable for all citizens; it must practically consider the rights of all citizens and not allow demands from classes, traditionalists, or religious zealots to place their needs above any other. The pragmatic effects of a given practice on the rights of others should be the dominant consideration.

The right to do anything ends when the exercising of that right infringes on the rights of others. It is difficult to see how using a firework can be seen as a ‘right’. The fact that it has been chosen as part of a religious or cultural observance or ritual cannot give it status as a 'right', especially when its practice has consequences for the community and the environment.

The by-laws for each region or municipality are enacted autonomously by each municipality but they cannot contradict the Explosives Act, nor, arguably, the Animals Protection Act. They provide exceptions to the rule that fireworks, which are by definition explosives, may not be kept, transported or used without a permit.

Joburg’s by-laws make provision for places where fireworks may not be discharged, like schools, near petrol stations, inside any building, and more. The by-laws also stipulate dates and times for cultural and religious celebrations using fireworks as well as permits required for selling fireworks or presenting fireworks displays, and the prohibition of the use of fireworks by minors. All this is well and good.

The Joburg by-laws also state that ‘No person may light or ignite fireworks in any place where animals are present’, and this is too vague on the one hand, given that someone would could easily look around and say, “I see no animals”, and light up with alacrity.

On the other hand, it could be argued that since the term ‘animals’ is not defined in the emergency services by-laws, it could be interpreted to mean ALL animals in which case it is almost impossible to find a place where there are no animals; it is completely impossible in any domestic suburb. It could therefore be argued that this by-law effectively prohibits the use of fireworks in suburbs, but the word ‘present’ can be used to justify their use if no animals are perceived to be so.

To a companion animal, whether dog or cat or horse, a firework is arguably ‘present’ from more than a kilometre away, and frightening at any distance below that. A firework lit in suburbia is also invasive to those who prefer peace and quiet. The wording of this by-law needs to be changed so as to close this obvious loophole.

Instances have been noted in Johannesburg where permission has been granted to hold fireworks displays at places where the by-laws explicitly prohibit it, for example at schools, effectively giving those holding the displays permission to break the law. In Mandela Bay, such permission may not be obtained unless a number of conditions have been satisfied. One would think that the Mandela Bay approach is the more responsible.

In Cape Town, Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth), and Hibiscus Coast (Port Edward), progressive by-laws have been enacted that prohibit the use of fireworks except in designated areas and with permission. In Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, West Rand and Richard’s Bay, permission  must be given, either by the Council or the Fire Chief. The setting of designated areas and strict criteria with permission as have been set at Hibiscus Coast is preferable.

Policing

The fact is that most of the police do not know the laws and their response in most cases is apathetic or incompetent. When police don’t respond to reports of fireworks being lit in a suburban area where the law is very clear on the illegality of such an act, they effectively side with the lawbreakers. That is a human rights violation. It is also contrary to their mandate to uphold the law.

The argument presented by the police is that they have more important issues to deal with. This is a weak justification and excuse. If something is law, the police must enforce it, otherwise it makes no sense to put the law in place. If we presented the same argument in the medical profession, we could argue that certain diseases could safely be ignored because they are less prevalent, which would be an unethical discrimination.

Effectively, by not acting against those who break the law in this respect, the SAPS side with the criminal, which contributes significantly to the lawlessness of our society, and represents a violation of our right to protection. The Police are therefore guilty of both violation of our rights under the Constitution and of Cruelty to Animals.

Other practical and ethical realities

Global Warming

Fireworks are propelled by black powder, also known as gunpowder. This substance consists of an oxidizer (potassium nitrate), a fuel (carbon), and an accelerant (sulphur). For every 270 grams of black powder used, 132 grams of carbon dioxide are created, the rest of it turning into potassium sulphide and nitrogen. It is estimated that the annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from fireworks is 60,340 tons or the same emissions from 12,000 cars on the road for a year.

The detonation of fireworks releases many toxic compounds into the atmosphere, including sulphur dioxide, nitric oxide, potassium nitrate, nitrogen dioxide, heavy metals, and ozone. The colour-producing ingredients of fireworks include potentially toxic elements such as strontium, titanium, mercury, lead, antimony, barium, copper, aluminium, and lithium, and also various chemicals which combine to produce deadly chlorine gas.

The use of fireworks contributes to the production of smog, acid rain, water pollution, and noise pollution. The carbon dioxide that is released by fireworks may also contribute to Global Warming.

With all of the concern that has been generated by the threat of carbon dioxide-caused Global Warming, and considering that many governments are proclaiming that everyone should do whatever they can to 'reduce their carbon footprint', it surprises me that governments and citizens continue to indulge in fireworks displays, which are an enormously wasteful and unnecessary greenhouse-gas-generating activity.

Health 

A recent study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that perchlorate contamination in the waters of Oklahoma Lake rises up to 1,028 times above background levels within 14 hours of the July 4 public firework displays held in the US each year. In high doses the chemical is thought to affect the development of the central nervous system in children. A Chinese study found air pollution levels five times higher than normal in Beijing during the 2006 lantern festival, in which fireworks explode around the city.

Waste of Money

One would think, given the state of the economy, that people would find less wasteful ways of spending their money. Fireworks are definitively wasteful – they are lit, their energy is exhausted, and the only somewhat dubious benefit is the entertainment value. Since we do not manufacture fireworks here, it also means that the nett outflow of cash on fireworks does not benefit the local economy.

Culture of Violence

We already have one the most violent cultures on the planet. Why would we want to reinforce people’s desire to explode things in the name of culture and religion?

Child Labour

Fireworks made in China, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, and Peru employ child labour, the consequences of which are work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age.

Injuries from Fireworks

From the South African Medical Journal:

Many studies conclusively recommend the introduction of stricter regulations and banning the indiscriminate sale of fireworks. There should also be greater control of retailers, the public be encouraged to use pre-approved firework sites, and school education initiatives be supported. Proposed amendments to by-laws include that fireworks can only be used by the permit holder, for a certain time duration, and in the 'premises for which it was issued'. As children cannot obtain permits, they would be prevented from handling fireworks.

However, these terms would not apply to Guy Fawkes and New Year's Day, for which occasions designated areas are determined for public use and are 'subject to conditions as may be determined by the controlling authority'. As the greatest fireworks use and highest record of child injury is on festive days, by-laws should also apply to these days.

In conclusion, fireworks are associated with serious but preventable injuries among the paediatric age group. Parents should take their children to safer public fireworks displays rather than allow consumer fireworks to be used by or near their children. More enforcement of regulations, education and parental supervision are needed to reduce fireworks-related injuries, and mail-order pyrotechnics should be banned.

From the American Academy of Pediatrics:

“An estimated 8500 individuals, approximately 45% of them children younger than 15 years, were treated in US hospital emergency departments during 1999 for fireworks-related injuries. The hands (40%), eyes (20%), and head and face (20%) are the body areas most often involved. Approximately one third of eye injuries from fireworks result in permanent blindness. During 1999, 16 people died as a result of injuries associated with fireworks.

Every type of legally available consumer (so-called “safe and sane”) firework has been associated with serious injury or death. In 1997, 20 100 fires were caused by fireworks, resulting in $22.7 million in direct property damage. Fireworks typically cause more fires in the United States on the Fourth of July than all other causes of fire combined on that day. Pediatricians should educate parents, children, community leaders, and others about the dangers of fireworks.

Fireworks for individual private use should be banned. Children and their families should be encouraged to enjoy fireworks at public fireworks displays conducted by professionals rather than purchase fireworks for home or private use.”

What should change

In some cases, as stated above, the legislation is poorly written. In others, the Explosives Act is sufficient, but law enforcement personnel either do not know about or do not understand the legislation. In others, they know about it but are seemingly as irresponsible as the public.

The following needs to take place:

1.        Legislation all over the country needs to be aligned. Ideally, the Explosives Act should be amended to include fireworks and all provinces should be bound by it.

2.        SAPS personnel should be trained regarding the relevant legislation and given a mandate for upholding the law.

3.        Volunteer groups should be set up in each municipality to assist the SAPS in identifying lawbreakers and abusers. Local forums should be set up to discuss methods of educating the public.

Roles and responsibilities

Fire Officers, Council members, legal advisers, animal welfare organisations, SAPS leaders, Health officials, and any other interested parties should engage in discussions to arrive at equitable and sustainable solutions in each municipal region.

Derek du Toit

Animal Custodian Alliance (http://custodians.za.org)

Firework Banning Initiative (http://fbi.hopeful.ws)

Read the Full PDF this excerpt was taken from: http://hopeful.ws/arf/files.php?pid=929&aid=96

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