Every Fourth of July, Americans come together to celebrate their country by blowing up a small portion of it (joke shamelessly stolen from The Simpsons). While only one city in the county allows so-called “safe and sane” fireworks to be purchased for the holiday, others put on their own aerial display of pyrotechnics resulting in kaleidoscopic colors lighting up the night sky. From every explosion, debris, and each city has its own way of handling the resulting cleanup.
In 2015, while conducting its regular beach cleanup, the Surfrider Foundation discovered pieces of oddly shaped plastic along the beach at C Street in Ventura. The suspected culprits were the fireworks shows hosted nightly by the Ventura County Fair.
Following discussions with the Ventura County Fair Board, fireworks vendor Zambelli Fireworks instituted new guidelines to prevent plastic debris from reaching the ocean, but in 2016, the plastic returned.
The following year, the fireworks display resulted in less debris, partly due to a reduction of the number of nights the display would be held.
Juli Marciel, member of Surfrider Ventura’s executive committee and head of the Plastic Free Ventura campaign, says that it’s not just the big displays that contribute to pollution on Ventura County beaches, but that most come from private individuals setting off fireworks obtained elsewhere — be that in Fillmore, where the “safe and sane” varieties are legal — or elsewhere.
“Even though fireworks are against the law here in the city of Ventura, if you go down to the beach after the Fourth you see all of this debris everywhere,” said Marciel. “I don’t know what they’re doing about enforcement but this is what comes from non-environmentally sound fireworks, those plastic pieces, metal pieces, all of that cardboard.”
Marciel says that when components of fireworks degrade, they release toxins into the environment and that regardless of how close you are to the beach, debris can and will wind up in the ocean.
“If anything goes on to the ground and does not get picked up it goes into the storm drain and goes into the ocean,” said Marciel.
At Ventura College, the Ventura Rotary Club will host the 25th iteration of its annual fireworks show and day-long event. Ken Leandro, fireworks event chair, says that the cleanup effort following the ticketed event is large in scale and leaves the grounds of Ventura College as clean as they were the day they arrived.
“Right after the event volunteers stay back, do some trash pickup right then, and then we come back in the morning with volunteers and we move all the trash cans to a central location,” said Leandro. “When I’m there on July 3rd at noon and I come back on July 5th at noon there’s no difference.”
Leandro says that the Rotary hires Pyro Spectaculars by Souza based out of Rialto to put on the fireworks display.
“I’ve never come across bits of plastic. When I called [Pyro Spectaculars] what I was told is they don’t have a lot of plastic in these devices anymore,” said Leandro. “My understanding is that with these professional ones much less comes out of them than the home ones or the bottle rockets of the world.”
Channel Islands Harbor Director Mark Sandoval told a similar story regarding fireworks debris from the harbor’s annual Fireworks by the Sea. Sandoval says that the fireworks are actually set off from the Port Hueneme Naval Base and that the Navy is “very strict about cleanup.”
“We have to go in the next day and pick up every single piece of paper from the show,” said Sandoval. Speaking with the harbor master, Sandoval confirmed that the fireworks used are made up of paper, cardboard and string.
Moorpark’s annual 3rd of July Extravaganza culminates in a fireworks show at 9 p.m., put on by Volt Live (formerly known as Pyro Engineering and Bay Fireworks), a national vendor of fireworks, pyrotechnics and other special effects for concerts and events. Stephanie Anderson, Recreation Services Manager for the City of Moorpark, says that in her 20 years with the city overseeing the fireworks displays she hasn’t seen much in the way of plastic debris.
“As far as I know, there’s little or no plastic involved, the racks are made of wood, the shells are made of paper,” said Anderson. “But we do require that the contractor remove 100 percent of debris at the end of the event.”
The 20-minute show uses 5-inch shells, says Anderson, adding that they are the largest used in the county. Regardless of size, the shells are made up of paper, cardboard and string.
“In the 20 years I’ve been here we’ve used three different companies and I’ve never seen any plastics or plastic debris left over from a show,” said Anderson.
In Thousand Oaks, Independence Day will be celebrated with the 4th of July Spectacular, hosted by the Conejo Recreation and Parks District. Rochelle Callis, Administrator of Recreation and Community Services, says that the fireworks vendor is Pyro Volt Live.
“When they leave it looks the way it did before they got there,” said Callis.
Surfrider is looking for volunteers to lead cleanup efforts in Oxnard, and in particular, on Perkins Island. For more information on how to get involved, visit www.ventura.surfrider.org.