Credit: Liz Ridley / Mustang News

Caroline Kelleher is an anthropology and geography sophomore and Mustang News opinion columnist. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang Media Group.

Call me a party pooper, but I’m not really a fan of the two big firework displays we’ve had behind Spanos Stadium in the last few weeks. The first one, after the Big Fall Welcome, made a lot more sense than the one the last weekend in September after we lost a football game against UC Davis 31-13. Sure, it was the “homecoming” game, but school’s been in session for three weeks. 

I sincerely doubt the CSU has a firework budgeting department and that the money for this likely came from tuition. In a time where Cal Poly is receiving widespread criticism for the handling of temporary study spaces, and the lack of funding put into these areas, why did the administration decide to pour thousands of dollars into a short celebration of… our football team losing? 

I also quite literally mean thousands of dollars – for the purpose of this article I found a few online quotes, with the average costing over $1,000 per minute of show. Some estimates put longer shows at tens of thousands of dollars. So, quite literally, someone’s payment for a year of enrollment would have paid for the firework show. 

For a school that certainly prioritizes its environmental sustainability and progress, the fireworks are an explosive contradiction to what seems to be our core values.

Putting on a large fireworks display is illegal without a permit in the vast majority of California. “Safe and Sane” fireworks, which are small-scale and don’t leave the ground (and must be approved by the state Fire Marshal) are only legal in specific cities. 

San Luis Obispo is not one of these cities. Obviously, Cal Poly got a permit to have these fireworks shows, but if we’re so proud of our sense of Californian community, why would we do something so frowned upon by the vast majority of state environmental leaders? 

Now, I’m no fire scientist, but what burns easily? Why, the grassy hills that surround our campus, of course! In the time of wildfires caused by increasingly ridiculous things (i.e. gender reveal parties). According to the state Fire Marshal, in 2021 over 900 fires were caused by fireworks. Why are we risking it for moments of oohs and ahhs that nobody will remember in a few days? 

Our school preaches caring for the environment, and fostering cutting-edge environmental research. Yet recent studies show that the chemicals in fireworks, especially the ones that create color, contribute significantly to air pollution. A study published in the Atmospheric Environment scientific journal showed that air pollutants across 315 areas were, on average, 42% higher than a normal day in the 24 hours after those areas shot off 4th of July fireworks. 

The chemicals used to oxidize the explosive reaction, perchlorates, tend to dissolve in water like lakes and streams. However, they also tend to make their way to underground aquifers — which we use for drinking water. Perchlorate ions require high temperatures to be removed from water, which isn’t a natural process. Perchlorates are considered a toxic chemical and are known to present serious concerns to human health when ingested. That doesn’t sound environmentally friendly to me.

Photo of smoke taken from an apartment on Foothill. | Courtesy of Caroline Masseli (the author’s friend)

As the fireworks went off, every single dog in my apartment complex began to voice their own concerns. You don’t need to be an animal science major to know that fireworks can be a huge cause for concern for nearby animals. With the recent statement from the Equine Center regarding the wellbeing of horses and other livestock on campus, it’s clear the university is aware of concerns to our animals, but is pretending that extremely loud noises don’t scare the hundreds of animals taken care of here. 

Sure, I love a fun firework show at Disneyland, or during the 4th of July, or at a professional sporting event. At any instance where the money for these activities isn’t originating from students’ pockets. 

When a school is putting money towards needless 10-minute long environmentally questionable extravaganzas while it has numerous facility issues and prides itself on sustainability, the priorities should probably be questioned. 

But hey, let’s show off our pride for our school by shooting off fireworks over the study spaces that look like a restaurant’s outdoor dining space circa March 2020. Because we’re all for putting our money towards the school to have firework shows, and definitely not to actually study.