For residents near Disneyland, nightly fireworks shows have lost their spark


For most people, fireworks are a special treat — loud, luminous displays to savor on Independence Day or New Year’s Eve.

But for some who live near Disneyland, where fireworks blossom in the skies above Sleeping Beauty’s Castle almost every night, the rockets’ red glare has worn out its welcome.

Residents have added double-paned windows and extra insulation to soundproof the walls. Juanita Driskell, a retired teacher who has lived a few blocks from the Anaheim theme park for nearly three decades, is so accustomed to the fireworks that when the crackling and hissing starts around 9:30 p.m., she just cranks up the volume on the television. Her two cats hardly bat an eye.

“The good part is I don’t have to leave the living room to see fireworks,” Driskell said. “The bad part is that it’s so loud.”

And when the grandkids visit, she has free entertainment to offer, ushering them to the patio to take in the spectacle, eyes skyward.

Driskell’s experience is typical of the love-hate relationship residents have with the 250 fireworks displays Disneyland stages annually.

Though many in proximity to the resort admit there is an appeal to the radiant bursts that fill the night sky on weekends, holidays and throughout the summer, those in pursuit of peace and quiet have tried for more than a decade to limit the noise and smoke.

When complaints from Disneyland’s noise-weary neighbors seemed to go nowhere, they turned to environmentalism and lodged dozens of air-quality complaints. But the effort appears to have waned; regulators haven’t recorded any recent air-quality complaints.

Last year, one resident sued Anaheim in federal court, saying that by holding hundreds of fireworks displays at the park each year, the city was violating federal water pollution laws. The suit was dismissed, but residents remain concerned about environmental issues.

“We’re OK with fireworks on the Fourth of July and New Year’s, but considering the density of the population here, you shouldn’t have it every night,” said Denis Fitzgerald, who filed the suit and is a member of Anaheim Homeowners for Maintaining Their Environment (HOME), a loose coalition of activists who live near the park.

Fitzgerald and other activists say the fireworks make dogs erupt in a howling chorus, waft smoke and shower ash and corrosive sulfur onto lawns, roofs, swimming pools and cars.

Beyond the smoke and ash, fireworks emit traces of contaminants such as copper, zinc, sulfate, nitrate and barium, which are used to produce their bright colors. Many fireworks also contain perchlorate, which can contaminate water sources.

Pollution and noise are enough of a concern that several other fireworks shows in California have faced obstacles in recent years.

In 2007, Sea World had to apply for a water-quality discharge permit for the 100 or so fireworks displays it puts on each year over San Diego’s Mission Bay.

The next year, the state Coastal Commission barred a fireworks show in the Mendocino County town of Gualala over concerns it was scaring away seabirds.

And last month, the nonprofit Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation filed suit to try to snuff out the annual July 4 fireworks show in La Jolla, saying it violates state environmental laws. Their line of argument? Protecting the environment is patriotic.

After 10 years of research, Disneyland in 2004 introduced what it called an innovative launching system that uses compressed air instead of black powder. The result is safer, quieter pyrotechnics that emit less smoke and pollution.

“That demonstrates our commitment to being a good neighbor,” said Suzi Brown, a Disneyland spokeswoman.

A Disney study requested by air-quality regulators has shown that lifetime cancer risks posed by the park and its fireworks are well within health limits.

“To their credit, they developed a number of technical innovations that had a significant impact on reducing smoke and fallout,” said Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

But even here in the blast zone, the fireworks have their admirers.

Hotels near the resort advertise rooms with views of the fireworks, and guests request such views. Year-round, but especially on the Fourth of July, motorists pull to the curb and gawk at the display. Traffic on Interstate 5 slows when the sky lights up with color.

Even critics have a soft spot for the fireworks.

“To be honest, I sort of like them,” said Steve White, president of Anaheim HOME, which has fought the fireworks for more than a decade. “But there are issues with the perchlorate.”

Sunday, those who live near Disneyland know to expect onlookers to descend and set up lawn chairs to view the show.

But for some who view the nightly fireworks as unremarkable as a trash truck rumbling down the street or a train clattering in the distance, the Fourth of July can be a bit of a letdown.

Jim Helms, 37, used to marvel at the exhibit, which he could easily see from his backyard patio just a few blocks from the park. Over time, he admits, it lost its luster.

“Fireworks,” he said, “just don’t impress me anymore.”