Drone shows have ways to dazzle the crowd more quietly and without pollutants associated with traditional fireworks displays say proponents. Courtesy of Sky Element Drones.

July 4, 2024

Most of us know the thrill of watching fireworks on the Fourth of July but many people are opting to skip the pyrotechnics for the holiday.

Critics of fireworks complain the loud blasts scare pets and trauma survivors. The residue of the explosives also pollute the environment. And with more communities facing record-breaking droughts during the summer, the flammable past-time can start dangerous wildfires.

In part to avoid these hazards, many cities across the U.S. are switching to drone shows.

The Fort Worth Report recently wrote about Sky Element Drones. The DFW-based company was preparing to conduct 35 shows for this year’s Fourth of July celebrations — from Irving to Nashville and Napa, Calif.


Fireworks not only pollute the air with particulate matter, they deposit large amounts of heavy metals into the air, soil and water, according to a recent National Geographic article.

The most basic component of fireworks is black powder, aka gunpowder, which is made from a mixture of 75 percent potassium nitrate, 15 percent charcoal and 10 percent sulphur, according to Earth.org.

Mineral elements are mixed with black powder, providing color to these explosions. For example, strontium is added to make red, sodium for yellow, and barium for green. Additional chemicals, such as carbon, sulphur, aluminium, and manganese, are added to the fireworks, functioning as stabilisers, oxidisers, and extra colours," reports Jessica Han, for Earth.org.


Climate change and an uptick in extreme drought is raising the fire risk of fireworks. Last year, researchers analyzed wildfire data from 2000 to 2019 and noticed a spike on one day in particular. Nearly twice as many wildfires were recorded on July 4 as almost any other day in the U.S. West, according to Inside Climate News


In addition, loud noise from pyrotechnic displays has been known to traumatize pets, wildlife and PTSD survivors.

Many pet owners spend their July 4th evening calming pooches or coaxing cats from under the bed. The U.S. Humane Society recommends turning on the radio or TV to distract them or seek medical advice from your vet.

My husband and I live close to where a fireworks display is held every year and it sounds like bombs going off on our street. Last year, the morning after the festivities, we found an abandoned baby possum on the front porch. Granted there are a variety of reasons, possums abandon their young. But watching the mom scurry in front our wildlife cam after the show made me wonder if the loud noise had something to do with the dropped joey.

Bill Bateman, an associate professor at Curtin University’s school of molecular and life sciences in Australia, coauthored a study that outlined the “highly damaging” impacts of fireworks, including scaring birds from roosting places and nesting sites, disturbing and distressing other animals with their sudden light and noise, and even affecting animal breeding.

“When we started looking into this, the thing that surprised me most was the extent of the disturbance,” Bateman told National Geographic. 

Drones have their downside as well. Drone shows can use as few as 100 drones or thousands. Research shows these unmanned aerial vehicles can disturb wildlife as well and cause light pollution.

But they may be the answer for now.

“I like fireworks, but I really feel they are not sustainable any longer,” says Bateman.

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