Fireworks waste in the gutter of Penniman Ave. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

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Many official Fourth of July celebrations in the Bay Area were canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. That didn’t stop Oakland residents from hosting their own fireworks displays over the weekend, however. One downside is that the half-burned shells of mortars, rockets, fountains, and small bombs now litter city streets. This cardboard and plastic trash can wash down our storm drains and into the bay, polluting the environment.

The Oaklandside spoke to representatives from several agencies and nonprofits to gather information about how residents can clean up the debris and keep our streets, creeks, and the bay clean.

Where to dispose of unused fireworks

Lots of people still have unexploded fireworks left over. For the next 10 days, people can safely drop off unused fireworks at Oakland Fire Station No. 3 at 1445 14th St., which is OFD’s designated facility for hazardous materials.

If you can’t make it to West Oakland, the fire department has also set up receptacles at other stations where people can drop off fireworks around the city. Those locations are:

Fire Station No. 1, 1603 Martin Luther King Jr. Way

Fire Station No. 4, 1235 International Blvd.

Fire Station No. 5, 934 34th St.

Fire Station No. 18, 5008 Bancroft Ave.

Fire Station No. 20, 1401 98th Ave.

If you can’t make it to a fire station, you can also throw fireworks in the trash, but you should take some precautions first. According to Waste Management spokesperson Paul Rosynsky, those seeking to safely dispose of used fireworks should soak them in water for hours until they’re thoroughly soggy and place them in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until they’re collected and taken to a landfill.

But Michael Hunt, the Oakland Fire Department’s chief of staff, suggests abstaining from fireworks altogether as a way to keep streets and creeks clear of debris, and to prevent fires or injuries. “Our whole goal is to not have people use them in the first place,” Hunt said. 

According to Hunt, 383 calls were made to OFD for medical and fire emergencies between 8:00 a.m on July 4 and 8:00 a.m. on July 5.

How to clean fireworks from the streets

Sean Maher, the public information officer for Oakland’s public works and transportation departments, says public works crews are in charge of debris removal from city streets. People are encouraged to call the fireworks tip line (510-238-2373), make a report online, or call 311 if they see piles of burned-out fireworks waste in their neighborhoods. ”We encourage our communities to be our eyes and ears on the neighborhood level, especially when they’re seeing issues that have the greatest need for clean up,” Maher said. 

In addition to the city, Oaklanders can also contact the non-profit organization SF Baykeeper at 1-800-Keep-Bay. The Oakland-based watchdog organization works to maintain good water quality in the San Francisco Bay and is vigilant about the threat that fireworks pose to the ecosystem.

“Fireworks typically contain metals like lead and copper and other debris like plastic and cardboard,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, SF Baykeeper’s executive director. “I’ve heard manufacturers saying that the materials from fireworks degrade and don’t harm the environment, but in our experience, these materials and metals are not biodegradable and will wash into the bay and local creeks and hurt wildlife and people who swim and fish, for many years to come.” 

Choksi-Chugh says her organization functions as a backup to ensure that cities will clean up fireworks litter. “If you’re getting the runaround or you’re not hearing back from them, and you have no idea if they responded to your issue, that’s when you should definitely email us or call us on our pollution hotline, and then we can hold that agency accountable and make sure that they are following up—because they need to.”

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Ricky Rodas

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He has spent the last two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the hyperlocal news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, joins us through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. Rodas will be reporting on small and immigrant-owned businesses in Oakland.