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State official wants to study effects of fireworks on lakes and waterways



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July 17, 2013 - By Dan Shriner

Review Editor

Some questions initially raised by a lake-front resident on Lake Orion about pollution from dumping lawn waste, leaves and dog feces into the water has led to more questions by an official with the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) about pollution from fireworks into the state's lakes and waterways.

The DEQ official said last week that he believes a study is necessary in Michigan to determine the levels of pollution in lakes and waterways where fireworks are used.

David Dullinger, an environmental quality specialist with the DEQ, said he does not believe a study looking into fireworks pollution into lakes has ever been done in Michigan.

The study could possibly address pollution concerns in such places as the Detroit River and Lake Orion where large fireworks displays take place over water.

"I would like to know what a study would find," he said.

Studies have been done in at least two states, Oklahoma and New Hampshire and in Canada.

Drew Esphenshade, of Ace Pyro, the company that handled the fireworks over Lake Orion on July 4, said his company does all it can to minimize pollution but acknowledged that debris does enter into the water.

"We try to do it the best we can," he said. "It's as good as we can make it. I think it's small potatoes compared to many other things."

Ace Pyro follows guidelines set by the American Pyrotechnic Association, Esphenshade said.

This includes using bio-degradable paper and cardboard in the explosives and not plastic. He said many dangerous elements have been eliminated over the years in the fireworks.

Some of the elements that are still used in fireworks include copper, barium, aluminum, cadmium, sulfur dioxide, lithium, lead nitrate, strontium, potassium nitrate and other compounds. Many of these are used to generate the fireworks' vivid colors. A majority of the litter from fireworks is in the paper and cardboard from the exploded shells and that material is bio-degradeable.

Esphenshade said most of the compounds are burned and consumed in the explosions and believes that only trace amounts contained in falling dust enters the water. This has been shown to be true, he said, because only trace amounts of some of these elements have been found in places like Disney World, where fireworks are shot off every night.

Dullinger said he agreed that most of the material is consumed but said he is still curious what a study might reveal.

Esshenshade, who said he formerly worked in landscaping, said he believes lawn fertilizers add phosphorus and much more pollution into lakes than what a fireworks show would once a year.

Carl Cyrowski, who is one of the volunteer leaders in putting on Lake Orion's fireworks show each year, said he believes it is important to find answers about any pollution and take steps necessary to minimize it.

"We only use those that have been certified safe," Esphenshade said. "There are always trade-offs when you consider fireworks. Everything has its pros and cons but we make it as safe as possible for ourselves and the environment."

A study in New Hampshire about fireworks over lakes concluded that fireworks are something that residents should decide if they want to enjoy and should consider the trade-offs.

The report concluded: "They (fireworks) impact water quality by affecting the odor and taste of drinking water. On the economic side, excessive algal and cyanobacteria growth due to phosphorus or contamination due to firework fallout increases water treatment costs, degrades fishing and boating activities, and impacts tourism and property values. The cost of damage done to property, the litter and the effect upon both wildlife and human life is incalculable."

Another study in Oklahoma found that potassium and ammonium perchlorate, which are used as propellants in fireworks and even rockets, were found in large concentrations several hundred times more than normal after fireworks shows. The perchlorate dissipated in 20 to 80 days to normal levels, the study found.

Perchlorate causes thyroid problems in both fish and humans.

One lake tested in the Oklahoma study did not detect any of the metals, such as copper, aluminum, cadmium or other metals following a fireworks show. The study was conducted in 2007.

One Lake Orion homeowner, who did not want his name used, wrote an email to The Lake Orion Review last week and wanted law enforcement to look into cases in which lake-front residents may have dumped lawn waste, leaves and dog feces into the water.

He noted such actions are a violation of state littering laws and warned that local police departments "stand ready to enforce the laws."

The homeowner said he didn't think a fireworks show once a year would be as bad as dumping lawn waste into the lakes.

Dullinger said it is illegal to purposely dump items into the state waterways, including yard waste such as grass clippings and leaves but even things such as golf balls are illegal to purposely hit into lakes. However, lake-front residents cannot be held responsible for the natural blowing or falling of leaves into waterways.

Dullinger said there also are significant problems with lake-front owners who use fertilizers on their yards. Using those fertilizers is not illegal but the run-off from those lawns causes significant pollution problems, he said.

Establishing a green buffer between the lawns and the waters edge is a good way to curtail some of the fertilizer runoff, he said.

Dullinger said it is best to advise residents about problems so that they and their neighbors can be alert to possible pollution issues. He said it was not reasonable to assume police agencies could be on the lookout for problems but would need assistance of residents to spot potential violations.

Dullinger also noted that it is illegal to dump so-called gray water, which is typically water used in washing machines. However, it is legal to drain naturally-occurring water runoff from places such as driveways.

There also are problems with residents who use equipment to cut lake weed infestation.

Much of the weeds that are cut are an invasive species called Eurasian milfoil. The weeds spread naturally when pieces break off and float elsewhere and re-establish growth. Cutting the milfoil contributes to the problem by allowing it to move elsewhere in the lake and spread, Dullinger said.

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