Fireworks and Flares on Pleasant Lake

Submitted by Doug Baxter, Storm Connors, Fred Pierce and John Wilson for the Pleasant Lake Protective Association.


  1. The fifteen to twenty minute professional display of fireworks on Pleasant Lake to celebrate Independence Day has no measurable medium or long term deleterious effects on lake water quality.
  2. This annual display gives many residents of both the Town and the Lake substantial pleasure. The support given by members with their donations for a professional display of fireworks provides an indication of their popularity.
  3. A professional fireworks display celebrating Independence Day, as presently conducted, should continue on Pleasant Lake.
  4. Consumer Fireworks are a significant nuisance to many on the lake and if not used in a neighborly fashion should be regulated by a Town ordinance.
  5. There is no evidence that the Pleasant Lake Loons are negatively affected by the Independence Day professional fireworks display.
  6. Orion Red Emergency Flares pose no known threat to lake quality, particularly if post-illumination debris is kept out of the lake.

Primary Concerns

The four main concerns with fireworks, besides the safety of those using them, are the perchlorate content, the phosphorus content, the heavy metal content and the noise:

  1. Perchlorates are ingredients of most fireworks because they are oxidizers for the propellants. Chronic exposure to perchlorates affects the thyroid gland. Chronic exposure to perchlorates seems to mostly come from ground waters such as well water. In short term exposure, there is little toxicity to humans and the perchlorates are rapidly eliminated after ingestion.One often cited study of perchlorates from a municipal fireworks display was conducted by the EPA on a 15.3 acre pond in Oklahoma 2004 – 2006. The results of four displays over that time were that the perchlorates spiked soon after the displays, but dissipated at various rates, some much faster than others, and returned to pre-display concentrations. The main reason for this dissipation was microbial action in conjunction with temperature. Pleasant Lake is 606 acres.A more recent study was done on the Charles River in Boston in 2013 and published in Thyroid Journal. A display of 3000 fireworks increased concentration of perchlorates in the Charles River over which the display was conducted. The perchlorate concentration had returned to baseline concentrations by the following morning.

    Based on evidence of rapid dissipation, perchlorates in professional fireworks displays performed in a limited fashion over a lake the size of Pleasant Lake do not appear to be a problem.

  2. Too much phosphorus can be very damaging to the ecology of the lake. The use of phosphorus in professional displays has been going down. Atlas PyroVision is listed as a sustaining member of the American Pyrotechnics Association and as a member of the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory. Both organizations publish the same list (most recent is September 2021) of permissible chemicals. Yellow and white phosphorus are prohibited and red phosphorus can only be used in caps and party poppers.Phosphorus concentrations in professional displays are not a problem. Pleasant Lake water testing post-display showed no increase in the phosphorus content of the lake water.
  3. Living organisms, such as humans, require trace amounts of some heavy metals. Copper and Strontium are two of these heavy metals and are permissible components of professional display fireworks. Lead, Rubidium, Cadmium and Lithium are not permissible components of display fireworks.
  4. Loud noise is a problem for those who do not like it. There are numerous ways that the noise can be handled for the 15 to 20 minute professional display on Pleasant Lake. Remaining inside the home and the use of earplugs are just two of those ways. A lot is being written about fireworks and the damage to health they can cause. Like almost anything in life, overconsumption of, or overexposure to many things can cause innocuous items to have toxic effects. Many reference articles concern the effects of fireworks during the Diwali Festival in India where fireworks displays go on continually for a week or more. Some of these displays include continuous sparkler displays within the homes.Another reference article describes the deleterious effects of fireworks in the Houston Astrodome with the dome closed in 1999. Still another article tried to link Sudden Infant Death Syndrome not to fireworks but to air pollution in one of the northwestern cities. Many references in articles attempting to show the negative effects of fireworks cite other articles which are irrelevant and are erroneously used to lend standing to the original article.

The Loons of Pleasant Lake

Over the last 20 years we have been very involved in the observation of the Pleasant Lake Loons. We were very concerned with what would happen when a Loon family was subjected to a fireworks display. What we always found was that the fireworks had no discernible effects at all. These observations concur with those of the Loon Preservation Committee which has written:

“Fireworks use on New Hampshire lakes has not been observed to cause loon nest failure or abandonment. There are also no indications to date that toxins from fireworks have substantially impaired loon health or survival at individual lakes or for the loon population as a whole.”

Consumer Fireworks

Consumer fireworks have become a major concern, mostly because of their perceived nuisance value but also because of the potential for polluting the lake and its environs. The New London Conservation Commission is looking for our input with regard to fireworks usage in New London with the thought of suggesting municipal restrictions for their use. We believe that the lack of consideration for others is the reason for these restrictions. Newbury and Sunapee have both instituted ordinances that have addressed


“The use of fireworks in the Town of Newbury is regulated by Town Ordinance. Fireworks permits are required and issued by the Newbury Fire Department under the conditions specified in the ordinance. The Newbury Fireworks Ordinance provides for fines of $250 per violation for anyone using fireworks in Newbury without a fireworks permit… Individuals who do not obtain the required permit and those that do not follow the requirements of the ordinance, which does not permit fireworks after 10:00 PM, will be subject to the fine.” This is an encapsulation of the ordinance.


“The display of Permissible (Class C “Common”) Fireworks is prohibited in the Town of Sunapee unless a fireworks permit is first obtained… Fireworks shall only be discharged between the hours of 5:00 PM and 10:00 PM… Fireworks Permits are limited to 3 permits per address per calendar year… Permits are not necessary on New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day Weekend and Christmas…” This is also an encapsulation of the ordinance.

It would be nice if neighborly consideration could preempt the need for a Fireworks Ordinance in New London. Frequent reinforcement of the “Good Neighbor” approach by the PLPA could greatly help. It has helped in the past. Fireworks should not be used after 10:00PM.


The PLPA sells the Orion Red Emergency Flare. These flares contain neither perchlorates nor phosphorus. The flares do contain the following components:

  • Composition / Information on Ingredients
  • Strontium Nitrate <75% – Can cause irritation if swallowed or inhaled. Used to treat irritated skin.
  • Sulfur <25% – Low toxicity to humans.
  • Potassium Nitrate <25% – Sometimes a food additive or preservative (saltpeter).
  • Paraffinic Oil <10%
  • Potassium Chlorate <5% – Toxic when ingested and skin irritant when touched.
  • Waxy sawdust mixture <5% – None
  • Polyvinyl Chloride <5% – Plastic which is safe to touch (the cap).
  • Shellac mixture <1% – None
  • Charcoal <1%

No written evidence could be found that these components are damaging the lake. Keeping post-illumination debris from entering the lake makes this possibility a non-issue. Placing the active flares on some suitable barrier material prevents this from happening. PLPA should make sure that they purchase only flares with spikes in them to facilitate placement of the flares on the barrier material.

There are also very nice electric/electronic alternatives to flares which would preclude the debris problem. PLPA should forward information regarding these alternatives to its membership and should also consider stocking the “Store” with some.

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