20 September 2011
The EPA, fireworks and volcanoes
Posted by Jessica Ball
So in my newsfeed today, an article popped up about Utah petitioning the EPA not to have smoke from July 4th fireworks included in their monitored air pollution (i.e., the amounts that will get you fined if they spike). The article went on to mention that the EPA grants exemptions for spikes in air pollution that result from “exceptional events”, which are defined as follows:
(i) Affects air quality; (ii) Is not reasonably controllable or preventable; (iii) Is an event caused by human activity that is unlikely to recur at a particular location or a natural event; and (iv) Is determined by EPA through the process established in these regulations to be an exceptional event.
These include natural disasters like storms, seismic activity, floods, wildfires and volcanic eruptions, as well as some allowances for air pollution blown in from elsewhere or resulting from terrorism or war. Now, I can understand forgiving the volcano-related spikes. Volcanoes are excellent places to find all sorts of nasty pollutants that the EPA regulates (particulates, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrofluoric acid, etc.), and you can’t really blame a state for having a volcano. (I guess this applies to Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and California, although I wonder if states with dormant volcanoes get grandfathered in?)
Seems like a bit of a weak case to me, if you go by the letter of the law; fireworks are pretty and fun, but they don’t explode on their own, like volcanoes. (And, “exuberant” fireworks displays this summer, given how many wildfires there were out West, seems a little risky in the first place. Take it from someone who had to evacuate from one.) Still, it appears that it’s not uncommon for the EPA to exempt fireworks displays from air pollution regulation, so maybe Utah’s request will be approved anyway.
Finding out about the exemptions for volcanoes was the interesting part for me – volcanologists don’t usually have much interaction with the EPA unless it’s a disaster mitigation or cleanup issue. Those volcanoes, always messing things up.
Here’s a link to the Public Comment page on Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality website – looks like the fireworks enthusiasts are concentrated in Cottonwood and Ogden:
I find this amusing, how, or why I’m not quite sure about, but somehow it made me laugh. Fireworks aren’t going to cause climate change. Regulate something more extreme like coal power plants, don’t bust on the traditions.
I heard this on the news as well. They were trying to get an exception because everyone enjoyed it and it wasn’t limited to just a few people. The main reason it is centered in thos communities it is because those are the main ones who hosted firework displays. Our air pollution laws a little wierd here because we are such a confined basin that anything you release pretty much stays here until a storm drives it on. But I agree that fireworks should be exempt because they aren’t an everyday activity and more of a celebration than anything else. (Sorry if this seemed rather rambling).
I would be very surprised if the fireworks display was big enough to register. Are there online EPA graphs showing spikes around July 5 in previous years? Or is this a big stink about nothing? The only EPA substance common in fireworks is sulfur, and a few extra tons shouldn’t matter if that big smelter West of SLC is still running.
OK, having read the report- the open space surrounding the monitoring station was used to launch the fireworks. And they made, y’know, smoke.
Sounds like a common sense waiver to me- is there any evidence that the EPA wouldn’t do this in the future?
It seems to be pretty common, although I could see them being a little more strict if there were fireworks going off more often (not just on holidays).
The thing is, the monitor station is not representative of the community at large if it is picking up very local events (e.g. fireworks in the field next door). It’s like issuing a smog alert because somebody put on a BBQ upwind of the station.
Wow! THAT would be interesting!
A state or city being fined because of smoke from Memorial Day BBQ’s.
Somehow, I can see that happening, if a certain party got into full power…