Disney’s Smoke-Free Launches

Times Staff Writer

After years of complaints from Anaheim residents about the towering gray clouds that its fireworks shows create, Disney scientists have come up with an answer: a smokeless launcher.

The new technology uses compressed air to propel fireworks into the sky, rather than smoke-producing black powder.

But neighbors aren’t impressed.

They acknowledge that the smoke is not as heavy as it has been in the past, with the switch to mostly air-launched fireworks. But the real issue, they say, is that Disneyland stages nearly four times as many fireworks shows as it did 10 years ago.


“We feel like it’s a joke,” said Jim Anderson, spokesman for Anaheim Homeowners for Maintaining Their Environment. “There’s been a huge increase [in shows] ... and now they make a slight reduction and somehow want praise.”

Disney spokeswoman Marilyn Waters said the theme park is trying to be a good neighbor. Disney says it will donate the seven patents associated with the new launch technology to an undetermined nonprofit organization that can license it to other pyrotechnic entertainers.

In the air, shows appear the same. But on the ground, 330 air-launch tubes have replaced most of the park’s black-powder cylinders.

Air launch also gives engineers more control over trajectory, such as fireworks in the outline of Mickey Mouse nearly impossible to pull off before.

Seventy-five percent of Disneyland’s fireworks now use the air-launch tubes.

Air quality officials applauded Disneyland’s efforts to reduce pollution from its fireworks. “It’s absolutely pioneering,” said Carol Coy, deputy executive officer at the regional Air Quality Management District. “This is a totally voluntary research project Disney embarked on as a smoke mitigation to be a good neighbor.”

While fireworks shows were once reserved for summer and special occasions, they have been staged year-round since 2000. There are nightly shows during the summer season and winter holidays and on Friday and Saturday evenings the rest of the year. And some residents object to the noise.


Disneyland is by far the largest pyrotechnic entertainer in Southern California, according to the AQMD, launching 89,700 pounds of fireworks annually, more than four times second-place Universal Studios. Last year Disneyland was given city permits for fireworks shows on 239 days. By contrast, Disneyland obtained permits in 1993 for pyrotechnic shows on just 62 days, according to the Anaheim homeowners group.

“Yes, there is somewhat less smoke,” said Steve White, president of the group. “However, they’ve gone from doing it in the summertime to doing it year-round. I don’t see how anyone can argue it’s an improvement.”