The fiery debate over London’s firework bylaws

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Rebecca Amendola and her mother protest outside Bob's Fireworks. June 26, 2022.

The conversation in London, Ont. surrounding whether or not to ban fireworks is an explosive one. There are two opposing local change.org petitions currently in circulation, with one side tackling topics like the effects fireworks have on the environment, mental and physical health, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even pets. On the other hand, those in favour of fireworks oppose limiting celebratory traditions, and suggest alternative enforcement methods.

London’s bylaws state the only days and times fireworks can legally be set off are Victoria Day, Canada Day, and the closest Saturday to Canada Day, between dusk and 11 p.m.

Fanshawe student, Rebecca Amendola, founder and former president of the college’s EnviroFanshawe group, has been working with other passionate Londoners to urge Mayor Ed Holder and City Council to consider an all-out ban on fireworks, especially during a rapidly growing climate crisis.

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“Fireworks are originally created from gunpowder, they are explosions as particulate matter, harmful metals we really shouldn’t have in our system,” Amendola said. “When you attend a show, your particulate matter intake is about 10 times higher that it would be normally. Anyone who has any breathing issues can seriously struggle, even find themselves in the hospital.”

Amendola added that the effects on local water systems can cause serious damage to the wildlife that inhabit it. “Often shows are held over water as a means of trying to prevent fires, but that completely ignores that particulate matter is raining down into waters, poisoning not just the fish, but the birds and anything living near that water.”

The petition started by Deanna Ronson asks City Council to take into consideration the impact the loud, unpredictable bangs have on persons with nervous system disorders, Autism, and PTSD. It currently has 2,891 signatures, with a goal of reaching 5,000.

According to the research done by Amendola, there are cities all over the world that have implemented a ban on fireworks which she would like to see London adopt.

“There’s permanent bans in Banff, Alberta and in BC,” she said. “There are permanent ban examples in areas of the US, in Italy, Europe and multiple cities in China.”

It’s not the celebrations and community gatherings Amendola takes issue with but the toxicity caused by the fallout from fireworks.

“I love fireworks, I can even say I’ve seen the Symphony of Fire at Ontario Place. I came to realize my own personal joy of the sparkles in the sky is not important when we have a climate action emergency.”

Amendola wants London to consider replacing fireworks with laser shows. The petition circulated by Amendola also suggests Canada donate their fireworks funds to local Indigenous organizations.

Bob’s Fireworks is one of the oldest fireworks retailers in London, if not the entire country. Bob’s son, Mike Leaf, who currently runs the business addressed the petitions regarding the negative impact fireworks have on the environment.

“I think the effects wouldn’t even be a drop in the bucket compared to what else is going on in our world,” Leaf said. “Look at the lights turning on, cars, machinery, farming, people smoking, trucking, and any kind of industry out there. The actual impact of two nights of fireworks is extremely minimal.”

Leaf believes the success of his family’s 57-year-old business is built on upholding family values and traditions.

“I think it’s a great outlet for people to get together,” Leaf said. “Customers look forward to putting on a great firework show. That’s limited to only twice a year. Many of our customers, we worked with their parents, and Bob worked with their grandparents, or their great-grandparents. That’s how they grew up. Now that’s how they’re raising their kids.”

Leaf said banning this beloved tradition is not the way to go.

“There’s other avenues you could pursue, either through the Neighborhood Watch, or through public enforcement. The rules and regulations are not the problem. Fireworks already are only legal one per cent of the year. To me this battle’s already been fought and won.”

The City of London is set to host a firework display at Harris Park on Canada Day at 10 p.m. For more information about firework safety, visit london.ca