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Fireworks light up the sky at Rhythm & Booms at Warner Park.

Newly released reports show that the Rhythm & Booms fireworks display at the Warner Park lagoon is not “benign fun” and it’s time to stop it, says a co-founder of a grass-roots group dedicated to preserving the city park’s flora and fauna.

“The fireworks of Rhythm & Booms leave significant and persistent chemical contamination, along with significant solid waste, in Warner Park's wetland. While the impacts on the food chain, fish, birds and public health are unknown, no one can now argue that the fireworks are benign fun,” Jim Carrier of Wild Warner wrote Wednesday on an email network serving north-side residents.

“The city of Madison, in partnership with the Madison Fireworks Fund, has significantly polluted Warner Park's wetland for 20 years. It's time to stop,” Carrier said.

The results of chemical analysis of plant and soil samples taken before and after Rhythm & Booms last summer “concluded that the annual display does have measurable impacts to the environment. The most discernible impact is the temporary spike in perchlorate, a commonly used rocket propellant, in lagoon surface water just after the display,” writes Brynn Bemis, a hydrogeologist with the city of Madison, in a draft report.

The U.S. EPA reports that perchlorate may have adverse health effects, and that research indicates “this contaminant can disrupt the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones needed for normal growth and development.” The EPA is in the process developing a proposed national primary drinking water regulation for perchlorate.

Most of the 16 plant species sampled at Warner Park lagoon showed elevated concentrations of elements associated with pyrotechnics 23 days following the Rhythm & Booms event, James P. Bennett, a University of Wisconsin-Madison botanist and member of the city’s Committee on the Environment, writes in a separate draft report. The maximum concentrations found of aluminum, barium, cobalt, iron, magnesium and sulfur, as well as some of the perchlorate values, were considered either at critical levels or nearing toxicity levels for plants, the draft report says.

The draft reports, to be discussed by the Committee on the Environment on March 18, are posted on the city’s Legislative Information Center website. The committee requested the study, which was funded with $25,000 from the city and $4,000 from two local nonprofits.

The city could require fireworks with no or low-levels of perchlorates, Bemis suggests, as well as quicker cleanup of debris from exploded fireworks shells and “duds” that don’t explode.

Rhythm & Booms organizer Terry Kelly is proposing a smaller, fireworks-only event this year, in part in response to complaints about crowds and traffic from neighborhoods near Warner Park.

I couldn’t reach him Wednesday on the suggestion that more environmentally friendly fireworks be used.

Ald. Anita Weier, in whose district Warner Park is located, said no-perchlorate fireworks sounds like a good idea, but she doubts their use could be written into a contract with the Madison Fireworks Fund for the display this summer.

City officials are negotiating that contract with Kelly now, Weier told me. “I don’t know if it can be changed this time around. Terry usually has the contract in place long before this,” she said, adding that details on this summer’s event need to be nailed down to allow Kelly to hire a fireworks crew from the companies that are in high demand around the Fourth of July.

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Wild Warner began calling for an end to the fireworks on the lagoon last month, before the test results were in.

Carrier thinks the city could require greener practices — through fireworks formulations or a launching position that doesn’t rain chemical-laden debris on wetlands — in the contract for this year. “I would think the city could write in anything they want if they chose to,” he told me.

“These are designated wetlands that are connected to Lake Mendota as part of the Yahara River watershed. They’ve been a useful dump for this annual event for 20 years, but I don’t think anyone with any kind of environment ethic can in good conscience let this continue,” Carrier said.

Weier said the people who live near Warner Park seem split 50-50 over whether Rhythm & Booms should be scaled back. Nearly everyone seems to want some kind of fireworks there, though, she said.

“People enjoy them — except for Wild Warner and other environmentalists,” Weier said.


This story has been updated.

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