Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, April 19, 1999

Fireworks leave
them breathless

MARIETTE from the Big Island called the radio talk show, but her raspy voice was barely above a whisper: "You probably can't understand me very well. I've been sick ever since the fireworks. I vomited blood and got high blood pressure. Then I got pneumonia and laryngitis, and now I'm diagnosed with kidney trouble and blood in my urine.

Fireworks "I don't think I will ever, ever recover from this (wheezing) insane demonstration of New Year's Eve. If they have it again next year, I won't survive. I know it. I'm 80 years old and older people cannot tolerate all this pollution...If the state legislators do nothing, they are the culprits. This is not tradition. This is murder!"

Anyone stuck on this rock every New Year's Eve has witnessed Hawaii's transformation from paradise to war zone. The midnight fallout from aerials, firecrackers, sparkers and other combustible "toys" descends like foul-smelling fog, making driving a hazard and imprisoning people until the shroud lifts. It's unbearably noisy, too.

But for folks like Mariette, it's life-threatening. Their well-being and the protection of future victims of fireworks-related injuries, illnesses and deaths are what motivate crusaders like Gail Ellingson of Pacific Heights.

She and other members of the grass-roots movement People Against Fireworks have been lobbying the Legislature since early this year, trying to win passage of a total ban on consumer fireworks before the century turns.

Partial bans, higher taxes or giving the counties jurisdiction WON'T alleviate the danger, they say, because the simple right to breathe is at stake. "This is more important than the economy, education, human services, etc., because it's a matter of life and death," says Gail, 46. "This place is sure to go berserk with the millennium celebration."

In the process of preparing her testimony, Gail has heard many horror stories -- like that of Rudy of Waimanalo, who despite barricading himself in his air-conditioned room, almost died when fireworks smoke still managed to seep in.

His 54-year-old cousin passed away in March from emphysema, which was aggravated during the holidays. Rudy's sister, a 59-year-old Kalihi woman who used an oxygen tank, slipped in and out of a coma after New Year's and died three months later. "We should all hang our heads in shame if we allow this continued assault and battery against our fellow islanders," says Gail.

OVER the past few months, the Star-Bulletin has received hundreds of letters and e-mail from fireworks fans and foes. The proponents become livid at any talk of a ban. Their justifications: it's fun, tradition, only "one day of the year," better than having celebrants firing guns, will result in a huge black market, will hurt the economy, etc. These are pretty good reasons, all right.

But how does one respond to fragile individuals like Mariette and Rudy, whose lungs are heavy with searing pain? What does it say if the Legislature refuses to immediately limit the mayhem scheduled to start in a scant eight months?

Here's the message to the approximately 200,000 people in Hawaii with asthma or respiratory problems: "Ya can't breathe? (Shoulder shrug) Too bad."

Forget about Hawaii's nickname as the Aloha State. If there's no statewide prohibition of fireworks this year, every single county is going to be known as Lawsuit City. We're all going to pay, one way or another.

Bullet Fireworks Scientific Poll Results
Bullet Fireworks Online Survey Results
>Bullet Hawaii Revised Statutes on Fireworks

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin