Considering the story on the front page of the SD section in today’s Union Tribune about Sea World’s ceasing their firework displays, it seems like I would be remiss not to address this issue before my guest spot here ends.

Yes, it is true that Coastkeeper filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue (NOI), which is a required first step to bringing a Clean Water Act lawsuit. The legal basis of the suit was simple – as we have claimed in front of the City Council and regulatory agencies, the Clean Water Act requires any company that discharges pollutants into waters to apply for and receive a discharge permit. Virtually everyone recognizes that Sea World’s “Sky Blast” show discharges pollutants into Mission Bay.

One only needs look at the cloud of dust after these shows end to realize that those contaminants go somewhere – and it’s usually Mission Bay. In addition to paper trash that Coastkeeper volunteers have collected after shows, some of the hazardous compounds found in fireworks and potentially in Mission Bay include: perchlorate salts, arsenic, chromium, copper, strontium, mercury, cadmium, lead and zinc.

Therefore, from a straight legal point, our argument was simple:

  • Fireworks contain hazardous substances, at least some of which are being discharged into San Diego Bay
  • Therefore, they must be used responsibly
  • The first step in responsible use is getting the same discharge permit that is required for any discharges into a waterway.

The fact that Anheuser-Busch agreed to secure such a permit certainly suggests … if not confirms … the sound legal basis of our argument.

Which brings us to public policy considerations. Anheuser-Busch is allowed to operate a private venture on public parkland (Mission Bay Park) because Sea World was initially envisioned as a conservation park or “oceanarium,” similar to Birch or Monterey Bay Aquarium.

In fact, Sea World officials continually tout their role as a conservation attraction, rather than an amusement park. Now, what fireworks have to do with marine conservation is anyone’s guess, but I would hope that Anheuser-Busch would want to take a leadership role in complying with all water quality laws.

Despite our belief that a discharge permit is required, it should be noted that Coastkeeper did not ask for an immediate cessation of fireworks this season, nor did we pursue any type of injunction to stop the unpermitted discharges. This was Sea World’s decision. Instead, with most of their fireworks occurring over summer season, we anticipated that Sea World would have nearly 9-months to secure such a discharge permit before next summer.

We do believe a Sea World permit will also set valuable precedent to ensure other agencies secure permits for fireworks. Despite our natural nostalgia for firework displays, the impacts on water quality are not well known. Just as we have had to change some of our 4th of July celebrations since I was a child due to recognition of health and safety concerns, regulation of firework displays could result in further monitoring, research and environmental mitigation measures.

What we do know at least suggest some areas of concern. A recent study done by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection looking at a fireworks launch site on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found that “… 10 years of fireworks displays have resulted in perchlorate contamination in soil and groundwater at the Perchlorate Study Area.” Perchlorate can affect the function of the thyroid gland, which regulates the body’s metabolism.

In reality, fireworks are not the largest source of contamination of San Diego’s waters. I assure you that Coastkeeper does work to address these most major pollution sources (sewage spills, urban runoff, impacts from power plants, etc.), and I believe our record of accomplishment over the past 11 years is unsurpassed. However, we must also recognize that the accumulation of many smaller sources of pollution also play a critical role in the health of our coastal ecosystems. If our action helps us better understand and mitigate the impacts of firework displays on marine life and public health, this will have been a worthwhile campaign.

Sorry I didn’t get to respond to everyone’s emails in my journal entries – I will do my best to do so via individual emails.

Thanks for reading.


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