They sure looked pretty, but last year’s fireworks showered Mary Ylangan’s yard and others with debris, some of which she brought to a council meeting last week. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
She wants Fair Haven to scrap its annual fireworks show.
But having had her home enveloped in smoke and showered with hot fireworks debris, Ylangan – a mom – is lobbying the town to replace the show with something more environmentally friendly.
Ylangan’s campaign is unlikely to affect this year’s show, scheduled for Saturday, June 14. Arrangements have been made, and a $15,000 contract has been signed with Garden State Fireworks to again put on the pyrotechnics display that became an annual event following the borough centennial celebration in 2012.
Ylangan, who declined to be photographed for this article lest she be recognized while out shopping as “the woman who hates fireworks,” says she’s researched fireworks and has found ample evidence to be worried. Still, she tells redbankgreen she’s relieved that, a year after bringing her concerns to the attention of borough officials via email, she finally worked up the nerve to make her case to the council last week.
Her case, in a nutshell, is that the fireworks, which are launched from a ballfield at the north end of Fair Haven Fields, cast clouds of dangerous smoke across residential neighborhoods, leave toxic chemicals at the launch site, and litter nearby yards and roofs with countless scraps of paper, some of which are still hot and may actually contain embers when they land.
Last year’s show dropped long strips and curls of heavy cardboard shell casings in her yard, as well as a few pieces the size of coconuts, she said. But there were also tiny scraps, too numerous and small to be collected.
“It’s literally like a shower,” she said, “like someone threw grass seed up in the air.”
Moreover, she contends, metals and chemicals in the fireworks get into the grass in an around the launch area, potentially exposing children to carcinogenic chemicals.
“The actual metals sit on the ground. They don’t disappear. They last for months,” she said. The presence of the chemicals “heightens the toxicity of our playing fields,” which she said the town had recently spent $500,000 to expand and upgrade. “What are we doing?”
Moreover, if the wind were in another direction, the impact might be the same on other neighborhoods – or on the crowd gathered to watch them at Fair Haven Fields.
Ylangan isn’t entirely alone in her unease about the show. A neighbor who asked not to be identified said debris from the fireworks “definitely came down hot” on his backyard full of kids last year.
“Someone easily could have gotten burned,” he said. Afterward, cardboard debris lay on his roof and filled the raingutters for months, he said.
The neighbor said he wants the fireworks to continue, but thinks the launch area needs to be moved, and that the borough should dispatch a cleanup crew to affected homes the following day.
That, in fact, is what the borough is offering in response to Ylangan’s campaign. Borough Administrator Theresa Casagrande told her by email that the borough “would be more than happy to add your property to our post event cleanup area.”
The fact that her house, at the eastern end of McCarter Avenue, is the closest to the launch area might give listeners the idea that she’s touchy about the issue because she’s closest to it, Ylangan acknowledges. “But I think if most had read what I’ve been reading for the last year, they would be alarmed, too,” she said.
Ylangan said her research has also led her to promising alternatives and growing calls for use of compressed air to launch fireworks. In 2004, the Disney Corporation switched to compressed air for fireworks shows as Disneyland in southern California, but complaints about noise and health impacts continued.
Ylangan would prefer the town find a “greener alternative. I just want to make sure people are educated as to what we’re doing here.” she said.
Mayor Ben Lucarelli told redbankgreen that his own son was at a pool party during last year’s show and reported that the debris “really came down.” Still, Ylangan’s concerns were the first he’d ever heard voiced about the environmental impact of fireworks, which he assumed that the state Department of Environmental Protection would ban or limit “if they were that toxic.”
But he said he would “reserve judgment. It’s a legitimate concern, and we’ll address it.”