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LOOKING AT THE MIRROR: It’s time to re-think fireworks over Mirror Lake
June 28, 2019

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What do you look forward to on Independence Day - fishing, boating, the parade, a cookout, lawn games with friends and family? For many of us, the traditional cap on the festivities is the best fireworks display of the year.

Lake Placid is well known for its fireworks, on the Fourth of July and all year long, thanks to a constant stream of celebrations that take place in this popular tourist town. Is it too much of a good thing? Maybe we should ask the village residents? If we could, we might consult their dogs and the wildlife as well.

What draws all those people to the area? It's our magnificent, natural environment which is so dependent on those of us who visit and live here for its protection. The gem in our midst is certainly Mirror Lake. It's almost impossible to imagine our village without it. We enjoy it in so many ways. Think of all the people who swim, fish and boat in it during the summer months and those who skate, ski, toboggan and dogsled on it come winter. What about all who simply want to sit near it or walk around it, admiring its beauty and the views it affords of the surrounding mountains?

As of 2018, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than half of our rivers and streams and more than one-third of our lakes were polluted and unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking. It can happen anywhere, especially among populations that don't value their natural surroundings or unwittingly harm them. We need to take care of Mirror Lake before it's too late.

Between stormwater run-off of road and sidewalk salt, thousands of Ironman participants training and competing in its waters, the use of lawn fertilizers, and depletion of the shoreline vegetation, not to mention pollution and global climate change, we are creating a lot of stress on a small lake. In recent years, the water close to the surface has warmed, and the water at the bottom has been left with less oxygen, leaving the fish with less habitable water.

As one environmentalist explained, "A lake is like a bowl which contains most of what is put into it," which brings me back to fireworks and the Fourth. Fireworks contain a long list of chemicals, most of them toxic. Just a few of them are: barium nitrate - a heavy metal, toxic to heart and lungs; lithium - a chemical known to pass through the blood brain barrier in rainbow trout; aluminum - acutely toxic to fish; potassium nitrate - when combined with other materials forms a cancerous compound; and ammonium perchlorate - a common fireworks propellant that gets carried through the air, contaminates water, and disrupts thyroid function in humans. Ammonium perchlorate has been classified by the EPA as a contaminant since 2011. It was replaced with compressed air in fireworks displays at Disneyland 15 years ago.

We tend to think of fireworks over water as a safety measure in terms of reducing the chance of fire, and certainly the optics are impressive as the fireworks are reflected by the water, but that's not all we should be considering. The debris and all the toxins that land in the lake can't be collected and taken away. Instead they stay in that bowl for many years. In Lake Placid, we are shooting off fireworks all year and during the winter months. Those chemical pollutants sit on the snow, melting into the lake come spring.

It's true, we might not yet know the long-term effects of the chemicals in fireworks, but we would be wise to be cautious. Those of us who have been around a while know that for years there were warnings, without positive evidence, that we should beware of the harmful effects of smoking, mercury and DDT.

Many communities around the world are looking to replace fireworks with other forms of entertainment for health and environmental reasons. Air quality, danger of forest fires, and contamination of lakes are all matters of concern, driving communities to consider laser and drone shows. In Sydney, Australia, they use professional-grade fireworks made with biodegradable paper that leave no polluting chemicals or compounds in the air.

Lake Placid may not be willing to do away with all fireworks just yet, but maybe we should consider reserving them for a special, once-a-year celebration, and hopefully soon there will be a green alternative we can live with for the sake of our lake, our residents, and our visitors. When enough communities make the environment and the health of their citizens a priority, the businesses profiting on our use of fireworks will be forced to adapt with healthier alternatives.

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