Jan. 31, 2007 An article in the Hong Kong Economic Times has Philip K. Hopke, the Bayard D. Clarkson Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and director of Clarkson University's Center for Air Resources Engineering and Science (CARES), somewhat at odds with Disney theme parks' claims regarding their nightly aerial fireworks display.
The controversy isn't new. Anaheim, California, residents have long complained about the pollution and the noise created by Disney's fireworks bombardment and the 90,000 pounds of gunpowder it ignites 239 nights a year. A group of Anaheim homeowners organized in 2001 to protest the launching of Disney's California Adventure claiming Disney and local officials were ignoring the harmful effects of fireworks debris on humans.
Locals complained that children with asthma had breakouts more frequently because of the smoke generated. William Fitzgerald, a representative of the homeowners group, told participants at South Coast Air Quality Management meetings that high concentrations of chlorate were leaking into the ground and polluting underground water. "Six wells have been shut down and most people rely on bottled water," Fitzgerald said.
In 2004, Disney switched to compressed air technology in the California theme park. The switch to the environmentally friendly fireworks decreased the noise by 60% and significantly reduced the smoke from the nightly aerial display.
Disney insists that compressed air technology is not suitable for "low level fireworks" at the Hong Disney theme park. Hong Kong's Environmental Committee is looking at the pollution generated by the nightly fireworks and its possible effect on residents of nearby Discovery Bay and Ping Chau Island. However, the study may be a mere formality because Disney has already passed the environmental assessment and has been granted permission to use the conventional fireworks.
In 2002, Hong Kong's Environmental Department tested the effect of fireworks on air quality, and was satisfied with the reports by Disney that showed pollution and environmental effects met government standards. Hopke, a universally renowned expert on airborne pollution, disagrees with that assessment, telling the Hong Kong Economic Times "the nightly fireworks show would expose residents in the down-wind region to high concentrations of suspended particles." He also said, "The nightly fireworks would make the condition worse for those with respiratory problems or heart disease, especially for Asians who are prone to bronchitis."
Hopke serves on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Science Advisory Board and was a member of the National Research Council's (NRC) congressionally mandated committee on Research Priorities for Airborne Particulate Matter and the Committee on Air Quality Management in the United States. He has studied diesel pollution in China and has served on numerous NRC committees.
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