‘We’ll Miss the OB Pier Fireworks … But Maybe It’s Time to Move On’

by on June 30, 2022 · 16 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

We’ll certainly miss the OB Pier fireworks, which has been cancelled again for the third year in a row. Watching those blazing white sparkles flow off the pier into the ocean were a sight worth remembering. And holding your child up so they could see the colorful explosions illuminating the night sky over OB is a memory worth cherishing.

This year we’ve been told that the pier cannot handle trucks and other weight-causing activity.

But, you know, maybe it is time to move on. Something different. Did you see how Imperial Beach this July 4th is replacing its fireworks with a high-tech drone show?

Here in OB, we need to accept the reality.

The reality is that pyrotechnics from and over the Ocean Beach Pier cannot continue – for two main reasons:

1. The state of the pier itself. As the Rag and reporter Geoff Page have documented, the pier has “reached the end of its service life,” and needs to be replaced. This has been confirmed by San Diego’s mainstream media and the city itself.

The City can and has made repairs to open it to pedestrians and service vehicles. But it cannot handle the weight of the equipment used in shooting off fireworks.

2. The pollution and toxic waste from fireworks.

Now, there are alternatives — see below. In the meantime …

How Fireworks Cause Pollution

Fireworks contribute to polluting or damaging our immediate environment by causing air, noise and water pollution.


Air Pollution: The smoke from fireworks consists mainly of fine toxic dusts (particulate matter) that can easily enter the lungs. This represents a real threat for people with asthma or multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Smoke from fireworks combustion may contain a mixture of sulfur-coal compounds, traces of heavy metals, and other toxic chemicals or gases.

The combustion cloud can contain harmful fumes such as ozone, sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide. Smoke from consumer fireworks is of most concern because they are released at a low level which makes inhalation more likely compared to professional displays. Additionally, in this time where the issues of climate change and global warming are being presented with a sense of urgency, we need to be concerned about the greenhouse gases fireworks produce, which include Carbon dioxide (CO2) and ozone.

Water Pollution: Fireworks fallout can contaminate water supplies and residue on the ground can be carried away by rain and end up in our lakes, rivers, or oceans.

Noise Pollution: Fireworks can be loud and the vibrations can travel far. In the middle of the night fireworks often disturb people trying to sleep. Fireworks can exceed 140 decibels and noise at 85 decibels or above can damage hearing. Some people also argue the noise from fireworks scares pets and wildlife like birds, etc.

For the color effect of fireworks, toxic heavy metals like barium, aluminum, lead, mercury salts, antimony, copper, and strontium can be used in firework compositions. Outdated heavy metals that have been used in the past include rubidium and cadmium.

Some toxic elements are supposedly not used in fireworks anymore like lead compounds, chlorates, and mercury as mercurous chloride (calomel), but some firework chemical outlets still sell some of these ingredients, they can still be seen in some pyrotechnic chemical lists, and homemade fireworks makers still sometimes talk about using them.

The American Fireworks Standards Laboratory (AFSL) has established a testing and certification program for Chinese and U.S. fireworks to determine if they are being produced according to AFSL Standards (which meet all U.S. federal requirements).

There is a list of prohibited toxic chemicals in the standards but unfortunately participation in the program is voluntary for manufacturers and importers.

Manufacturing: Raw materials and energy are used to create the final firework product. Firework ingredients often come from elements that need to be mined from the earth. Mining is not exactly environmentally friendly. Minerals then need to be processed and isolated… often with chemicals. Fireworks use plastic plus paper & cardboard (which kills trees) and are all made at factories that pollute.

Transportation: Firework components are transported to the firework assembly plant, finished fireworks are transported to their various distribution centers and stores. Transporting may include planes, boats, and trucks. I don’t need to tell you the pollution that vehicles cause. And don’t forget that the consumer drives to purchase the fireworks, sometimes hundreds of miles to another state to bypass local restrictions.

Alternatives to Fireworks

Mike James, a few years back, proposed a whole different scenario : “Back to the Future: A Proposal to Replace the OB Pier Fireworks Festival With A Light and Water Show,” (see here.) Mike had proposed in the spring of 1980 to a skeptical OBMA Board of Directors to bring back the fireworks. And they did.

Four decades plus later, Mike offered:

To explore ending the fireworks and to began the Light and Water Festival.To replace the archaic fireworks with new technology in light and sound.

To use the pier and the ocean as the canvas.

Communities across the world are embracing this art form and new innovations are constantly added.

Imagine the pier lit up, images projected off of water misted in the air. The idea of replacing the fireworks with a light and sound event may not happen overnight but I think it is time to once again dream of what we can accomplish as a community.


View the links below and just imagine the possibilities.

Singapore Light Showhttps://youtu.be/K25LP8ikJRE

Dubai Light Festivalhttps://youtu.be/t2g_Vnf13GE

International Light Festival http://international-lightfestivals.org/

Disneyland Fantasmichttps://youtu.be/GS2cvKS_lNY


Other Alternatives

  • Electronic fireworks display lamps produce colorful explosions of light all night long without the pollution or noise of real fireworks.
  • Electronic pyrotechnics don’t use explosives either. Electronic blasts can form a canopy up to 25 feet in the air that rain down glitter, confetti, rose petals or even candy.
  • If fireworks must go on then displays should use air-launch technology, which utilizes compressed air to launch the fireworks instead of gunpowder, in combination with fireworks with low-gunpowder formulations. There is talk of new shells that use “biodegradable plastic” but what remains to be seen is if they are 100% non-toxic and leave no nano-plastic residues after breakdown, plus we still need to know what conditions they require to biodegrade.
  • Low-smoke pyrotechnics produce practically none of the smoke or ash that traditional black powder fireworks do. Although they are being tagged as environmentally friendly or “green fireworks” the combustion byproducts still contain carbon dioxide which is a harmful greenhouse gas and also trace amounts of toxic metal salts. In addition ammonium perchlorate could still be used as an oxidant which still has the potential to contaminate water supplies. In a positive note less heavy metal salts are needed to produce the color effects.
  • Unfortunately fireworks will never be eco-friendly but will be subject to greenwashing that distracts people with good intentions from the overall negative environmental impacts.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Td June 30, 2022 at 12:45 pm

Love this. Thank you for sharing.

I’ve talked about the issues of fireworks with firework lovers for years but they don’t care. They like them and that’s all they care about. Traditions are really hard to let go of for some people.


Vern June 30, 2022 at 7:49 pm

Great time for other “firework” options!


JZ July 1, 2022 at 8:03 am

This is why I cannot comprehend the excessive fireworks abuse constantly on display from SeaWorld. Really boggles the mind…q


Judd43 July 1, 2022 at 8:10 am

Totally agree. I have many cherished memories of the OB fireworks – not to mention the marshmallow fight – but all things must pass, and I’m fine with the OB fireworks passing into memory.


Debbie July 1, 2022 at 9:43 am
Flustercluck July 1, 2022 at 11:08 am

Agreed time to move on.


Hank Ramírez July 1, 2022 at 3:48 pm

Hi! Thanks for the article!! I’d like to add a 3rd important reason (which I recommend be separated out from reason #2) – the trauma fireworks cause to veterans with PTSD (with all the military in San Diego, you would think this would go without saying!), to wildlife and to our pets!! The money wasted on to celebrate a day that applies only to a segment of the population could be put to better and more environment-friendly uses. Thanks!!


Chris July 5, 2022 at 5:13 am

I agree with reasons 1 and 2, but overwhelming majority of both active military and veterans very much/love like the fireworks, so to think the 3rd reason goes without saying is a bit of a stretch.


Geoff Page July 5, 2022 at 12:51 pm

Chris, a friendly question, how do you know an overwhelming majority of active military and vets love fireworks? This city is full of those folks and I have to believe many of them are among those who don’t like the fireworks. And, many are probably dog lovers who maybe have to deal with a terrified dog during the fireworks. I’m just curious if you had a way to substantiate that?


Chris July 5, 2022 at 8:53 pm

TBH I’m assuming that based on my own experience. I know a lot of veterans and the majority like them. I know that doesn’t represent all veterans but I just haven’t encountered many who want them to stop. So again it an assumption on my part, not a statistical fact.


Will July 3, 2022 at 11:54 am

Seaworld does seem desperate to hold onto their fireworks. Our dog we adopted from the Gaines St shelter 12 years ago will low crawl and shake until she slinks into the bath tub when Seaworld sets their fireworks off. Then there is the noise, air, and water pollution. Is it appropriate to celebrate America with something so destructive and temporary?


Mike James July 3, 2022 at 5:17 pm

Now that I am back living in O.B. I am ready to get rolling on an alternative to the fireworks. I plan to have a community meeting soon to explore the possibilities.


kh July 6, 2022 at 11:48 am

I have faith creative minds can come up with something unique that exceeds the enjoyment of a traditional fireworks show, and without the negative impacts.

Light shows use lasers and that could be a no-go with the flight paths. Of course, we are already launching fireworks into protected airspace so…


Mark Dodge July 5, 2022 at 4:36 pm

I agree. The trauma to pets and wildlife is enough of a reason by itself to move on to quieter alternatives.


Geoff Page July 6, 2022 at 11:53 am

I’m glad you mentioned wildlife, Mark, they tend to be forgotten in this discussion. And they don’t have any loving human companions to try and comfort them through it.


Tim David July 13, 2022 at 11:47 pm

Its really superb to share about the Fireworks


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