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Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

Bay Area residents experiencing mental distress in wake of illegal fireworks

A TNT firework stand in Sacramento, Calif. on July 3, 2020. (James Wyatt / Golden Gate Xpress)

SF State alumna Bre Washington moved to El Sobrante, a small town in the East Bay, last year to live somewhere idyllic. However, a non-stop wave of fireworks since late May has stopped her from enjoying peace in the house she shares with friends and her dog, Flacko. 

“My mental health has gone down the hill for sure,” Washington said on how overwhelming the presence of the fireworks has been during a time of unrest in the country surrounding protests on police violence and a global pandemic.

“We’re dealing with everything else in the world. I’m an essential worker. I’m still going to work and dealing with COVID,” she said.“I’m Black too; dealing with that on top of everything else. My roommates are Black. We don’t stop talking about the movement, and then I come home, and we can’t sleep either because you’re just worried [the fireworks are] getting really close to the house, and it doesn’t feel safe. Nothing feels safe, and this area that I live in is really safe.”

El Sobrante is not the only community experiencing disruptions from fireworks this summer. According to the Department of Emergency Management, in San Francisco alone, there have been more noise complaints in June than all of 2019, with 2,733 reported as of June 22. Reports on firework activity across the country are on an increase, as a slew of loud noises from fireworks regularly occur at all hours of the day. 

Dennis Revell, a spokesperson for TNT Fireworks, the largest seller of fireworks in the country, said that this has been a big year for business. 

“In general, fireworks sales across the country have been higher than normal,” Revell said. “California state-approved fireworks have only been on sale since noon on Sunday, but we are seeing an increasingly robust sales activity at the stands throughout California.”

The American Pyrotechnic Association (APA) counted 273 million pounds of pyrotechnics sold in the country last year, accumulating roughly $1.4 billion in revenue. This year, the APA has recorded firework sellers seeing “all-time” highs, with sales up 200% to 300%. 

Revell explained that the activity in California, which began in May, likely stemmed from the illegal movement of fireworks meant for sale in neighboring states. These fireworks are typically either distributed throughout the state after arriving at the ports of Oakland, Los Angeles or Long Beach or resold in California after being bought in Nevada.

“Oakland and San Jose, both of whom don’t allow state approved safe and sane fireworks, are just besieged by illegal fireworks this year. They have always had a problem, but this year it is off the charts,” Revell said. 

“Safe and sane” is a designated category of fireworks that is available for retail to the general public in California, though some counties and cities across the state have their own laws that restrict the use of even those. The California Fireworks Safety & Education Program lists only 13 cities in the Bay Area that allow the use of these pyrotechnics. Among the fireworks not on the safe and sane list are “Skyrockets” and “Roman Candles–” ones often associated with large Fourth of July celebrations. 

Local Bay Area governments restrict the use of these to avoid the dangers of large explosives and the public nuisance. Contra Costa County and Richmond Police Department have both issued out posts via social media reminding their residents to not participate in pyrotechnic activity.

“The city of Richmond has a zero tolerance for the sale and use of illegal fireworks,” stated a video uploaded to Facebook by Richmond’s police department. It added that “celebratory gun fire is illegal, dangerous, and can be deadly.”

Despite these efforts, Contra Costa County firefighters have extinguished over a dozen fires sparked by fireworks gone astray. 

Washington also said that not being able to see the fireworks has made the experience especially unnerving. 

“I haven’t seen one actual firework in the sky,” Washington said. “It scares the shit out of me. At least if I was able to see them I could say, ‘Yeah, there’s a firework,’ but because there’s no color to go with it, it’s so confusing. Where is it at? Where is it coming from? Is it a firework? Is it a gunshot? Is it not?” 

The Bay Area is home to a sizable veteran population. The Census Reporter counted 24,580 people, 3.2% the population, as being of veteran status. According to Dr. Todd K. Favorite, a clinical professor of psychiatry and director of the University of Michigan Psychological Clinic, said the unpredictability of fireworks can “[activate] the arousal system or sympathetic nervous system.”

“It is often hard for them to focus their attention, and they experience intrusive mental images or ‘flashbacks’ and thoughts about the trauma events,” Favorite said. “They can become easily angered or reactive to perceived threats.

Washington said the most disruptive element of the fireworks is that they do not allow her or her dog to sleep.

“I’ve just been on edge, these fireworks keep you on edge because you can’t ignore it,” she said.


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The Student News Site of San Francisco State University
Bay Area residents experiencing mental distress in wake of illegal fireworks