Fireworks safety guide
For the past several weeks, our city has been grappling with the incessant firing of firecrackers and fireworks. We have information, resources, and advocacy tools to help you push towards positive change in your community.
Noise and mental health
Sound levels from incessant use of fireworks are unreasonably loud. The City of Boston states that unreasonable sound levels are anything louder than 50 decibels from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m, or anything louder than 70 dB at anytime.
On average, daytime sound levels in the City of Boston are 62 decibels (dBA), while nighttime sound levels are 58 dBA. Sound levels from fireworks are intermittent, random, and loud, measuring 130 - 150 decibels.
Sound levels from fireworks are a public health issue. Firework noise may trigger a flight-or-fight stress response. Sound levels 5.5 decibels and higher have been shown to be associated with negative mental and physical health outcomes. These include the manifestation of serious diseases, such as hypertension and heart disease.
Many residents describe firework sounds as triggering. That’s especially true for those who have experienced trauma resulting from guns or bombs. Firework noise may also trigger feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. Results from the Community Noise Lab’s 2016 Greater Boston Neighborhood Noise report sheds light on these feelings. Residents felt that noise in their communities was:
- unwanted (98 percent)
- uncontrollable (95 percent)
- constant (80 percent), and
- impacting community health (65 percent).
Fires, burns, and injuries
In the past decade (2010-2019), there have been 858 major fire and explosion incidents involving illegal fireworks reported to the Massachusetts Fire Incident Reporting System (MFIRS). The incidents caused:
- 12 civilian injuries
- 40 fire service injuries, and
- an estimated loss of $2.9 million, which is high considering most fireworks fires are outdoor brush fires.
In the past decade (2010-2019), 37 people were treated at Massachusetts emergency rooms for severe burn injuries from fireworks (burns covering 5 percent or more of the body), according to the Massachusetts Burn Injury Reporting System (M-BIRS). Fifty-four percent of the victims were under age 25.
These victims are scarred for life.
Environmental impactsEnvironmental impacts
Air pollution is another harmful effect of firework activity. Upon explosion, fireworks release a slew of harmful pollutants and trace metals such as:
- sulfur dioxide
- carbon dioxide
- manganese, and
- cadmium and particulate matter.
A recent nationwide study has shown that PM 2.5 levels are elevated during firework activity. PM 2.5 particles are so small that they can travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs. Current City- and statewide asthma rates in adults and children are alarming:
- 1 in 9 people in Massachusetts — 10.2 percent of adults and 12.9 percent of children — currently have asthma
- Boston is home to a disproportionate number of children who have asthma (16 percent)
Given these stats, we should be particularly concerned with the effect of illegal firework activity on these vulnerable populations.
There is not a direct connection between firework activity and COVID-19. But, in a recent study, Harvard researchers found an increased likelihood of more severe cases of COVID-19 in areas with higher levels of air pollution.Additional Resources
If firework debris is deposited into our waterways and oceans, it may also contaminate the water supply for both humans and animals. A particular concern is perchlorate, which is a chemical found in fireworks. You can be exposed to perchlorate by inhaling it, ingesting it, or by skin contact. The major toxic effect of perchlorate in humans is thyroid disruption. This can lead to adverse effects on our cardiovascular, nervous, and reproductive systems.
All noise and air pollution effects stemming from firework activity also impact our wildlife. Firework debris —both on land and in our waterways and oceans — can also be accidentally eaten by wildlife. Animals who ingest firework debris could experience intestinal clogging and injury, leading to a slow and painful death.
Take our fireworks survey
The Resident-led Action Process and Plan (RAPP) survey is an online anonymous survey to capture the experiences, perspectives, and civic actions of Boston residents impacted by fireworks.
Let your voice be heard by taking action today:Take the survey
This might be a good time to connect or reconnect with your neighbors. Talk it out with your neighbors. Explain how the fireworks are impacting your quality of life. If you are unable to have a respectful or thoughtful dialogue with your neighbors, then get advice from your civic association or neighborhood watch group.
If individuals are coming into your neighborhood setting off fireworks, then it's time to get organized with your neighbors and inform your elected and City officials.Call 311
Report your concerns to your local City councilor.Noise Score
The NoiseScore smartphone app was developed by Community Noise Lab at Boston University School of Public Health. It is available for both iPhones and Androids. The app allows you to both record firework sound levels and subjectively describe how they make you feel. Your data is fed into a live heat map that you can view directly in the app. The data can be used to identify hotspots where advocacy, enforcement, policy, and resources should be directed.