Lifeguards watch a fireworks display at the Huntington Beach Pier on July 4, 2021.
In response to new mandatory environmental regulations, multiple Fourth of July fireworks displays along the Los Angeles County coast have been cancelled. The decisions come a month after the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted in late May that fireworks displays be developed with new practices to reduce plastics and other types of pollutants that could be dumped into the ocean or marinas from fireworks.
The catalyst for the new measures was a federal lawsuit filed by environmental activists against the Big Bang on the Bay of Long Beach, which alleged that the show had violated the Clean Water Act by dumping pollutants into Alamitos Bay.
Although a judge did not rule in favor of the environmental group, the trial evidence detected at least one case of “contaminants related to fireworks”, which pushed the regional water board to improve the regulation of these spectacles on waterways. Debates over the environmental costs of fireworks – known to cause significant air pollution – have raged in many states and countries in recent years, with growing calls for better monitoring and, in some cases, to a complete ban.
The Galapagos Islands recently limited the sale and use of fireworks, as did Beijing. Because the water board adopted the new requirements so close to July 4, officials said they contacted “well-known fireworks shows over coastal areas in Los Angeles and Ventura counties to explain the requirements and offer assistance with permit applications,” the board said in a statement.
Most of the fireworks displays planned in the county for the Independence Day — from Long Beach to Marina del Rey — abide by new rules meant to protect waterways from the colorful explosions, but a handful of shows won’t go on because of the new requirements.
All those shows – there are at least five, including two in Redondo Beach, planned to use Rialto-based company Pyro Spectaculars by Souza, which decided not to apply to the Los Angeles water board for a permit. “We cannot and will not risk the safety of our staff and the public to comply with the restrictive rule,” CEO Jim Souza said in a statement. “The water board instituted the new regulations quickly and unilaterally, with little input from us, one of the nation’s largest and most experienced producers of fireworks.”
Souza said his company is environmentally friendly, but that the new regulations for waterway shows in Los Angeles and Ventura counties will not be met this year. Water Board officials said other fireworks vendors have been able to meet the new requirements.
The two canceled shows in Redondo Beach were those of Seaside Lagoon or Kings Harbor, administered by the city council, and that of Redondo Riviera, organized by a private entity. Pyro Spectaculars was also going to perform a show at Pacific Palisades’ Bel-Air Bay Club, which is now hosting a drone light show. A spokesman for Pyro Spectaculars said a show in Malibu was also cancelled, but did not specify where. It was not immediately clear where the canceled fifth show would take place.
“I’ve lived here a long time and I think this is the first year that there won’t be any fireworks in King Harbor,” Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand said in a council meeting earlier this month. Redondo Beach City Manager Mike Witzansky called the outcome “frustrating” because he said the city and its Fire Department worked to a tight deadline to try to ensure the city could meet the new water board requirements, but its supplier, Pyro Spectaculars, became “uncomfortable trying to meet them,” he said. He said it was too late to find another fireworks provider or move the show to a locally based on the ground. “We are all disappointed,” Witzansky told the meeting. “As far as future shows are concerned, there is a way that we can put on a barge-based show in the future, we’ll just probably have to find another provider.”
According to Norma Camacho, president of the Los Angeles Water Board, at least seven offshore events are in the pipeline and are expected to win approval. These include Long Beach’s Boat House on the Bay, the Marina del Rey show, the Port of Los Angeles Cars and Stripes event on June 30 and July 4 in Cabrillo Beach, and three shows put on by the city of Long Beach, at Harry Bridges Memorial Park, the Carnival Ship Dock and the Floating Barge behind the Queens Mary, according to the board.
The water board did not respond to questions about the planned Fourth of July fireworks at the Catalina Island above Avalon Bay, but a spokesman for the island’s tourism authority said the show was expected to take place “in compliance with all applicable regulations.” It was not immediately clear how many shows in Catalina County Ventura had gotten the go-ahead or if any had been cancelled.
Camacho said there was still time for a permit event for July 4, but said it “depends on the integrity of the permit application and the best plan management practices.”
In the federal lawsuit that led to this change in requirements, a judge ruled in April that there was no evidence of continued violations of the Clean Water Act, but noted that the 2022 show had released pollutants into the bay. (The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, which filed the lawsuit, has appealed the ruling in the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.)
Although the ruling did not go in favor of her group, Livia Borak Beaudin, one of the lead attorneys of CERF, called the ruling a partial victory “because the court found that the defendant had released pollutants.” She said the ruling helped create these new rules for fireworks displays, which she says are similar to the permits required by the San Diego and San Francisco water boards for fireworks over waterways.
“I understand that some upset about the cancellation of their fireworks display,” Beaudin said. “But they can go ahead. You just have to regulate them to do as much as possible to minimize” environmental damage.
At the May water board meeting where members confirmed the permit, a Pyro Spectaculars representative said the company she was concerned about the safety of her pyrotechnicians, who would have to do real-time visual monitoring during a show and carry out cleanup shortly after a show. Water Board officials said such teams could use unmanned video surveillance systems like a GoPro and noted that the permit only requires best practices that are “feasible and economically achievable.”
Beaudin, who said the new permit from the Los Angeles region is the strictest yet, calling for tougher restrictions on plastic waste from fireworks and better tracking, which will help the water board learn the extent of fireworks contamination. Redondo Beach’s cancellation is unfortunate, but this is a fireworks company,” he says. “Other companies have been able to comply with the regulations.”
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This article was first published in Los Angeles Times in Spanish.