Published in El Pais, March 7th 2020.
Last Wednesday I attended the Municipal debate in Nijmegen, Netherlands, on fireworks. At the latest New Year’s party in the Netherlands more than 68 million euros were sold in fireworks and in the hospitals more than 1300 injured people were treated due to fireworks accidents. The question for the debate was should there be total or partial ban on fireworks? The mayor, responsible for public order and security, said that a total ban instead of something partial would be easier to control. It would be a hard task for the police to control whether any firework is prohibited or not. At the end of the debate, the Municipal Council voted for a total ban. Let me tell why.
First, the health and social cost of the injured. Between 42%-61% of the injured were only spectators (burns and eye injuries). New Year’s Eve is the riskiest night for the entire Netherlands, it requires more police, fire and medical attention than any other event. Medical costs were 1.4 million and the cost of people who will not be able to work due to these injuries reached 2.2 million euros. And there is the cost for vandalism caused by these fireworks and alcohol which is 15 million. The costs are paid by the whole society and are expenses that could be used for more important objectives.
Second, pollution. Contaminated air causes respiratory problems and allergies for sick people and is also dangerous for healthy people. The day after the streets are also filled with remnants of fireworks boxes. Few persons really take the effort to clean and it becomes extra work for municipal cleaning company. The cost, you guessed it, is again for society.
Third, the feeling of security and tranquility. Not only dogs and cats are traumatized these days, it also affects many people. Older people and children are afraid to go outside. Considering that many fireworks are already detonated from days before to the New Year until days later it is more than just unpleasant.
While there were parties that argued there should be more control and stronger sanctions instead of forbidding something fun, they could go not against so many arguments. So many negative externalities. And the question is, is all this cost worth to start the New Year? As it is now forbidden in the city, we will surely find other ways to enjoy this party and at least we can walk quietly on the street to give our neighbors good wishes without risking our lives.