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Coastal fireworks need pollution permits, water board decides

San Diego-area water regulators voted Wednesday to require pollution permits for fireworks displays over water, in what they said was the first such regulation in the nation.

Operators of seaside fireworks shows from Laguna Beach to the U.S.-Mexico border will have to take steps to minimize the discharge of pollutants into the water and to clean up shells, cardboard, fuses and other debris under the new rules by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The rules, which take effect next month, will largely affect displays along the coastline, but will also apply to fireworks over rivers, streams, reservoirs and lakes.

Officials said the policy is an attempt to protect bodies of water from pyrotechnics shows that scatter pollutants and trash. The metals and chemicals that produce explosive effects and bright colors can also contaminate water and become toxic to aquatic life. 

"The new requirements balance the importance of public displays of fireworks as part of our national and community celebrations and the need to prevent degradation of water and sediment quality from the fallout of firework combustion residue," David Gibson, the water board's executive officer, said in a news release.

With the exception of SeaWorld, the region's fireworks shows were not previously subject to water-quality regulations. The theme park, which launches fireworks throughout the year, will be required to test the water and sediment of Mission Bay for pollutants as it has since 2007 under its own permit with the water board.

The new policy comes after increased pressure from environmental groups to clamp down on the booming, luminous displays over the water in places such as Mission Bay and La Jolla. They say fireworks threaten wildlife and degrade water quality.

Organizers of fireworks shows contend that the regulations are unnecessary and that the environmental concerns are unfounded.

-- Tony Barboza

Photo: Fireworks rise over Laguna Beach. Credit: Los Angeles Times


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