New Year's Eve fireworks: fun or dangerous?
With New Year's Eve approaching, some animal rights activists in Sweden are concerned about how the use of fireworks will affect pets and other animals.
Fireworks have long been an important part of certain Swedish holidays, like New Year's Eve and Walpurgis Eve at the end of April.
"With New Year's Eve, it's like celebrating the new that comes in, and it's common with fireworks to fire away the old," Emil Nordqvist, a member of the student group Pyrotechnic Society at Luleå Technical University in northern Sweden, told Radio Sweden.
The society's members design and make their own fireworks, and Nordqvist told Radio Sweden that one of the reasons he is so interested in fireworks is that it is like making a painting in the sky with light. According to Nordqvist, fireworks have a long history as part of New Year's celebrations.
But not everyone is as excited about fireworks, and the criticism is generally aimed at three areas: safety, the environment and how the explosive sounds of fireworks affect animals.
According to the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), approximately 100 people every year are seriously injured by fireworks, and almost 70 percent of these injuries occur in connection with New Year's Eve. Nordqvist does not believe that safety is an issue when fireworks are handled by professionals, but it is another matter with consumer products and people who are not trained to use fireworks.
"People don't have much respect for fireworks. Most of the fireworks people can buy aren't that dangerous but they make a lot of noise and that can be annoying to people," Nordqvist said.
It is illegal for people under the age of 18 to buy and use fireworks, and in 2001 it became illegal in Sweden to use fireworks that are primarily meant to make a loud explosive sound. There are also many municipalities that have ordinances limiting the times when fireworks may be used, but Nordqvist said that part of the problem is that often children get fireworks from their parents and use them outside the permitted periods.
Camilla Björkbom, president of Animal Rights Sweden, told Radio Sweden that the time around New Year's Eve can be very stressful for animals.
"Domestic animals can get very afraid of fireworks, some can even go into different states of shock. Also, wild animals react in the same way and may flee or hide. There was a horse who got so afraid, he ran outside his enclosure and ran out onto the ice on a lake, fell through and drowned," Björkbom said.
She believes that limiting firework use to professionals and to those who obtain permits could help prevent problems like this, and she likes the idea of restricting the usage of fireworks to certain times, for example, that certain municipalities only allow fireworks to be used between 9:00 PM and midnight on New Year's Eve.
"I also think that a possible alternative is having a laser show instead of fireworks; that would also be beautiful but quieter and more respectful," Björkbom said.
Emil Nordqvist, of the pyrotechnic society, said that his group gets a lot of mail and complaints from animal owners and he understands why people are upset.
"But you also have to see that there are a lot of people who like it as well. There are few things you can do today that bring a whole town together to celebrate something, as much as fireworks do," Nordqvist said.
For those who do plan on using fireworks this New Year's Eve, Nordqvist offers these tips:
"Number one is to not be drunk when using fireworks. Also, make sure the fireworks are on stable ground, because there can be quite a recoil when they are shot. And make sure no one is close, so that it is just you there, in case something happens, and you can then get out of the way," Nordqvist said.