in The Sassy Lawyer

Air and noise pollution on New Year’s Eve

On Tuesday evening, we hosted a dinner party for my brother-in-law who was on vacation in the country for the first time in more than two years. Tables were laid out in the garden and, while having the obligatory after-dinner coffee and tea with cakes, we heard firecracker explosions. These were followed by fireworks shooting into the clear evening sky.

Inevitably, the discussion turned to this persistent Filipino tradition — this belief that no New Year’s Eve celebration is complete without gunpowder explosion. I remarked that it was still a few days before New Year’s Eve but people just couldn’t wait. My sister-in-law agreed and relayed that on the news, there have already been reports of firecracker-related injuries. I asked, you mean blasted fingers as usual? She answered, yes. And I commented that Filipinos never learn — walang ka-dala dala.

People still don’t get it. Firecrackers are made with gunpowder, the same stuff used for making bombs and explosives. It’s undeniable, really, that while television is so effective in marketing even the most low-quality consumer goods, it has been largely ineffective in making people realize just how dangerous firecrackers are. Year in and year out, news programs show photos and videos of people — including young children — with mangled hands and fingers caused by firecrackers. And they don’t even seem to make people flinch.

The real creepy part is how fathers egg on their sons to learn how not to be afraid to light firecrackers. Like to be able to do it, and enjoy the ear-splitting blast, is a sure sign of manhood. Watch the news and count how many of those with mangled hands are males and how many are females. Just see how lopsided the ratio is.

Year in and year out, too, we hear and read about victims of indiscriminate gun firing but does it stop the gun-toting drunks from firing their guns into the air to greet the New Year? Like hell. It is enough that they can show off, that they own guns and they know how to fire them, and never mind who catches the bullets — that’s not part of the required knowledge for gun ownership.

So, if we stay with fireworks display, it’s safer and it must be okay, right? I used to say I love fireworks but hate firecrackers. Now, I just dislike both. Much as I am still awed by those spectacular explosions of colorful fountains of light in the sky, I think about the polluting effect and I wonder if the few moments of jaw-dropping spectacle is worth the polluted air. And the garbage.

What garbage? Oh, come on. When people light firecrackers and fireworks in the streets on New Year’s Eve, do they really sweep the debris afterward? Very few do. And the sad thing is that over the holidays, the people responsible for cleaning up public streets and collecting garbage are much too busy drinking and celebrating to do their job. Garbage collectors are days late and so are the street sweepers.

In a press release made two weeks ago by the EcoWaste Coalition, alternative ways of greeting the New Year are suggested. Blowing of horns and whistles, shaking maracas and tambourines, clanking “cymbals” made from pot lids, beeping of car horns…

Reading through the list, I wondered — what about noise pollution? Everyone’s so doggone concerned about air pollution and global warming — but what about noise pollution? It’s funny how no one seems to pay as much attention to the effects of noise. There’s good reason for calling noise pollution a modern-day plague — it is just as detrimental to human health as air pollution. The effects are both physiological and psychological. It can lead to aggression, sleep loss, stress and hypertension, and it can cause hearing loss.

If you’re a pet owner, watch how your dog or cat reacts to the noise on New Year’s Eve. You have to be really blind or insensitive or both not to see what the deafening noise does to them.

And if you’re the parent of a baby or a very young child, imagine what damage all the noise is doing to him. If part of your family’s New Year’s Eve tradition is to shout and bang and explode firecrackers, just think of what the long- term effects on the young child might be. There are studies that say that among pregnant women, noise “may increase the risk of high-frequency hearing loss in the newborn, shortened gestation, prematurity, and intrauterine growth retardation” (see “Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague: Groups Vulnerable to the Effects of Noise Pollution” in www.medscape.com).

I still don’t understand why people have to associate fun and celebration with noise. I don’t see why the amount of adrenalin rush has to be measured by the high pitch of a person’s voice and his ability to enjoy himself amid the din of shouts and clanging and explosions.

For all the concern for the environment that we like to display (hey, it’s fashionable to campaign against global warming and climate change, after all), for all the billions poured into studying the effects of air pollution on global warming and climate change (do you realize how many NGOs and foundations are raking in unbelievable sums of money for mouthing cliches about global warming and climate change?), many people still turn their backs on equally hazardous forms of pollution because it is simply too inconvenient and too corny to live in a quieter world.

So no one says much about the effects of too-loud music and the drunken karaoke singing in our everyday lives. Even much less is said about the senseless noise on New Year’s Eve. People are strange. Really strange.

Write a Comment

Comment

Current ye@r *

33 Comments

  1. Lahat ba ng ito— all these new year practices of Pinoys—are these all attributable to superstition and the influence of the Chinese on us? And the saying that ” wala namang mawawala if we follow this and that pamahiin…”… I think we’ve carried it a bit too far. I agree with your thoughts, Connie and please add the factor of being practical cost-wise—that instead of buying those things that will turn to a few seconds of fleeting entertainment, why not use the money for some other more worthwhile reasons? Corny? Not so, if we think about hard times these days.

    • You being a lawyer, would I be right in saying convincing a kid from with blown hands from years ago to sue the government and firecracker industry in Bulacan for negligence (for not creating laws to ban these and for lax police work) and compensation (for potential income lost from having missing fingers), getting other kids/adults-with-blown-fingers to join him/her in class action lawsuit, hopefully winning in a court of law bajillions of pesos, will finally put a stop to this dangerous goods industry?

      • Wish you were honest enough to use your real name (the domain you used for your email address is a fake).

        Anyway, is the government at fault for the bullishness of people? If your theory were followed, boy oh boy, let’s blame the government for the immature way people vote putting people like Lito Lapid in the senate.

    • Naku, wait ’till you hear about the New Year superstitions about what not to serve on New Year’s Eve. Speedy overheard a few in the supermarket and they were hilarious. Will write about them soon. hehehe

      • Sige, hilarious or not, let’s share those superstitions— and then we’ll know that they are just that— superstitions! We can live without doing or believing them.

    • Perhaps it IS a Chinese thing, BUT:

      1. The incidence of firecracker injury amongst the Fil-Chinese community is low. Even in big Chinese cities such as Beijing, or Chinese-populated areas such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, their governments regulate the use of firecrackers, allowing only minimum-grade and relatively low-smoke varieties.

      2. Even in Taiwan, modern Buddhist and religious groups forbid and/or discourage burning offerings and firecrackers (modern groups such as Tzu Chi, Fo Guang Shan, Chung Tai, etc… google them na lang, if you want :p). The use of strong smoky incense, smoky firecrackers, paper effigies, etc. Is very much still rampant, but is on a decline. In Singapore, people who use such things are required to do so in an area specified by the government, where they install air filters and ash-filtering incinerators.

      In other words, even if the Chinese bring firecrackers and round fruits and too-salty ham all by the boatload, it’s ultimately the Pinoys’ decision if they want to spend time and money on such excesses, and if Pinoys refuse to restrain themselves or even at least set standards, hindi na kasalanan ng Chinese yun.

      • There is a story from AP that sums it up nicely:

        “Many Filipinos believe that noisy New Year’s celebrations drive away evil and misfortune. But they have carried that superstition to extremes…”

        I don’t think the Chinese invented the Super Lolo.

        And I don’t think many are even aware of the drive-the-evil-spirits away thing. Filipinos just like noise. As though it is equal to fun. Just listen to hosts of variety shows and how they shout and out-shout each other while the audience screams — all in accordance with placards bearing instructions from the director.

  2. The government spends millions on treating firecracker burn victims. My take on the issue:

    1. Raise extreme taxes on fireworks, so prices will be jacked up, too. (Doing so would generate money, equal to or exceeding government costs for burn treatments).
    2. The prices, being raised, will discourage people from buying. Less people buying firecrackers = less firecracker injury (in New York, for example, there is even a total ban on any and all fireworks).
    3. If the “industry” dies (yes, I’m referring to the stalls and factories in Bulacan, etc), then so be it. A few jobs lost are less important than the lives saved. (Remember too, that firecracker FACTORY explosions have caused fires and deaths every single year).

    Not that this is going to be effective: there’s always going to be smuggling and the black market.

    Sometimes, I get mean and feel that government hospitals should refuse to treat firecracker victims. (A doctor friend who works at a public hospital REFUSES to use anesthesia on firecracker victims–oh, she treats them; but she makes sure to aggravate the pain by pouring on the alcohol, “para magtanda.”)

    • I like it that you responded to your own suggestion — the black market lives. And those that run it are, most times, government officials and their cohorts. Just like smuggling. And illegal logging. And illegal fishing. And mining. All of which aren’t possible unless backed by serious political clout.

      Hay, life…

      • In Australia,fireworks for individual use has been banned for nearly 20 years and to celebrate the New Year here, millions of Aussies watch the spectacular fireworks display which is orchestrated by professional pyrotechnicians and is government controlled.. Each State has it’s own controlled fireworks display and the best one is in Sydney which is enjoyed and viewed by millions around the world. Sana ganyan din sa P.I. para walang injuries to nobody and everyone can welcome the New Year with a big bang and no casualties.

        Happy New Year! I Love your blog!

        • Hey Lin… Dun sa sinabing mong sana ganyan din sa P.I. ???? is this a double meaning? My country is known as RP (Republic of the Philippines) never tag it as P.I. okay?

          • Chill man. In America and other countries, they call “RP” as PI. PI, as in the American term for our country: Philippine Islands. I don’t think Lin wanted to insult Filipinos… :-)

          • look at the news coverages, the injured persons in emergency rooms are usually those from the lower classes. why don’t they just use the money to buy food or other necessities instead of useless fireworks? duh!

            from the 31st floor of our building, the smog that covered the metropolis post-new year was appalling! and my allergic rhinitis has really been acting up since jan. 1! you are right, this SHOULD be a big environmental issue! why isn’t it??

            note to commenter above who suggests not treating fireworks victims to teach them a lesson: i saw a small injured boy on tv, he and his distraught father were at an ER although they had NOT played with any firecrackers, they were just bystanders — a wayward firecracker from his neighbor had flown inside his shirt, causing him major injuries. kawawa talaga. some victims are just innocent people staying at home who can’t afford to check into hotels or go out of town to escape the noise and smog.

          • You’re right: a lot of the victims are innocent people. Another reason why these things should be banned. People don’t need to have lots of money to practice prudence and restraint, though; I can only hope to see the day when Pinoys (from whatever economic strata) let go of their bad habits.

  3. It’s culture and it’s world wide, so the firecrackers’ noise would drown out your voices of concern and reason, so to speak.

    On the bright side though, the number of injuries are going down steadily compared to the previous years. It’s not that people have become enlightened about the dangers of firecrackers, it’s more of the economic times wherein it’s much wiser to spend your hard-earned money on food instead of firecrackers.

    Of course, people are now more aware about the safe handling of firecrackers thanks to the media and the private sector’s initiatives, so that’s a contributing factor.

    A firecracker-free New Year’s eve celebration is just still a long way off in the future.

  4. “If your theory were followed, boy oh boy, let’s blame the government for the immature way people vote putting people like Lito Lapid in the senate.”

    The government can be blamed for a lot of things. I don’t understand why you’d use this as a counter-argument to the firecracker problem though, as they’re 2 different issues.

    But to respond, I don’t think your perception of Lapid (or any other politician) being incompetent carries more weight that kids having blown hands. Politicians can be voted out or their terms may expire, so incompetence can be rid in time or through education of the people (also happens in time). I do believe the people are getting wiser about trapos. Educating people about firecrackers though, this hasn’t been even debated a length in the mainstream. As far as I’m concerned there are three ways we can rid of the firecracker problem: education of the masses through school and media (very difficult given its an ingrained cultural problem), creating laws banning firecrackers and jailing buyers and sellers (hard to enforce given our lax and corrupt police), and my solution, which is to hit the government and the firecracker industry where it hurts most – in their pockets. Which do you think is more effective?

    • Most people’s proposals entail the use of the legislative (creating laws to ban and penalize firecracker industry or the parents, raising taxes-will only make the underground industry flourish) or the executive (educating the people – DOE, or getting the police to enforce the laws), I say why not use the judiciary? File a class-action lawsuit, create judicial precedence, make the government and firecracker industry pay. Other countries make use of compensation laws to keep industries in line (cigarette being the most notable recent one). We Filipinos should learn from them. Where are the greedy lawyers in this? If I were a lawyer, I would round up all the victims of firecrackers, maritime disasters, lung cancer and sue the beejeezus out of these industries.

      Maybe Filipino lawyers aren’t greedy enough?

      • edit: If I were a lawyer, I would round up all the victims of firecrackers, maritime disasters, lung cancer and sue the beejeezus out of these industries, get my clients paid compensation, and get my cut.

        Maybe Filipino lawyers aren’t greedy enough?

    • I was never a fan of firecrackers, as a 7 year old I have seen a watusi burn a hole on a classmate’s socks and as a teenager witnessed an older cousin’s finger got blown off by a firecracker. After 12midnight New Year’s, I would make sure not to venture out the house with my friends until the city has quieted down and smoke dissipated. The firecrackers were just about the only thing I didn’t like about the Philippine Christmas holiday.

      But on the first 3 New Year celebrations here in the U.S. it did feel weird and lonely to be inside the house and just hear the fireworks from a distance. But one gets used to it. For this New Year, after dining out, my husband and I just watched the ball drop on t.v. and kissed to welcome the 2010. And honestly, it was really just enough for me. Corny as it sounds, being with people that is dear to us during this time is what matters the most.

      I am also just glad that I don’t have to deal with an inebriated husband who will egg our son to light a super lolo as a test to prove his manhood every New Year. If that was the case I am sure my husband and I will always start every year with a big argument and a fight. Not good Feng Shui :)

      • Not corny at all, Geri. Smart, in fact.

        Speedy and the girls and I popped a bottle of champagne, watched the fireworks from a distance and just turned on all the lights in the house to welcome the New Year. Our fingers are all complete. :)

        • hi connie,

          i too was never a fan of firecrackers. also, ever since i became a mom, the more i hated the way my neighbors celebrate the New Year’s eve. firecrackers, shouting, banging of pots (and whatever), karaoke/videoke singing, etc. etc.

          in our quest to find the house we can call our own, a quiet neighborhood is on top of our requirements. :)

          happy new year!

          • Happy New Year to you. I am not a fan of firecrackers myself. But this year was highly unusual because few neighbors used firecrackers in the eskenita (sa street na lang). But our electricity went kaput sa lakas ng firecracker and I went berzerk afterwards. I am always paranoid everytime New Year Eve comes kasi you are afraid that it would cause fire or some idiot use his gun as substitute for firecrackers and went straight into your house.

            I am in favor of controlling the use of Firecrackers – i.e. professionals who can use it properly and safely – like the ones done in Australia, Hong Kong and other cities. This old practice has got to stop na kasi – kung tatangalin natin ung kamalasan, di sana mas asensado na tayo sa ibang bansa (pilosopo ang dating pero kung iisipin mo, it true di ba?).

          • I agree. We can just all watch the fireworks and leave the expenses and lighting to professionals. The thing is, you know how the black market thrives. And for so long as the demand is there… vicious circle.

          • Miss Connie, I love how you reply to internet trolls… hahaha…

          • Every new year, we celebrate at my Mom’s family’s compound in Pasay. My uncle buys enough fireworks to start a war, and he usually lights them at the compound’s main garden, which I’m happy to say is clear of cables, wires, and high tree branches.

            Said uncle’s careful though – he won’t let any of the younger kids near the bigger fireworks, and most of the guys entering the garden have to wear hearing protection. He also uses incense, newspapers, and other safety bits to make sure he doesn’t blow his hand off.

            Sure he’s loud, and he’d cry bloody murder if you took away his fireworks. But the man knows what he’s doing XD,

          • Pao, we moved to what we thought was a quiet neighborhood. As it turns out, quiet except on New Year’s Eve (and a few days before that) and when there’s a party accompanied by drunken karaoke singing. The latter is a plague — it’s everywhere!

          • re: drunken karaoke singing…

            one time i told my dad, kung hindi lang masama na sumpain ang ganitong klase ng kapitbahay, neighbor from hell.

            bakit nga ba ginawang commandment yung love thy neighbor? need to brush up on my bible studies na yata. joke. LOL. :D

    • I’d be very happy to engage in a really good discussion when you have the guts not to hide behind someone else’s name. If you think this gets Lapid’s name searchable on the web, your boss won’t like it that his name is now associated with cowardice.

      Lito Lapid is a trapo.

  5. I so happen to be one of the Pinoys who LOVE NOISE for New Year! I just can’t get used to New Years that are quiet (spent a couple of New Years in the USA and it SUCKED – quiet and passive celebrations are overrated to say the least) and I actually FORGET that it is New Year two weeks after Jan 1st because of that on those years that I did spend it in the USA! Why do you want us to celebrate in a lame manner like they do in the Anglo-Saxon countries when its not in our nature?True we have a lot of bad habits but this “bad habit” IS THE ONE I’d choose to keep if we had to keep one collectively (what society doesn’t have bad habits and flaws to begin with?) while erasing all our other bad societal habits!

    Besides foreign tourists who come to the Philippines around this time (plenty of whom do not come from places that habitually celebrate New Years with a bang like we do) are largely aware of the noise levels in the New Year but don’t seem to mind it, in fact they embrace it and tell people here how much fun they’re having! Its very different from their homelands but isn’t it the point of tourism – to experience something different? We can use this Filipino tendency to excessive, noisy celebration as a tourist attraction of sorts. And I hope for as long as I live (am 22 yo btw) Pinoys will make deafening noises every New Year in their own ways! And in my opinion fireworks displays are the same year in and year out (this is an opinion I’ve got from seeing and observing dozens of fireworks displays)… :D

    And on an interesting note, alot of “progressive” countries in Europe DO LIGHT THEM like crazy too – in fact public transportation in Holland during New Years Eve grinds to a halt between 8pm of Dec 31 and 1 am of Jan 01 each year because of that! I heard environmentally-conscious Germans and Scandinavians enjoy blowing them up too, not to mention the Russians who do share that “excessive” celebration trait with the Filipinos. You could probably blame us Pinoys/Asians for bringing that tradition there, or their countrymen who fell in love with the tradition during their trips/stays in Asia and blow off millions of Euros in the process but not too many people get hurt! True the noise levels may not be as extreme as ours but the noisy, festive spirit is still there so they must be doing something right! And we should look at what they’re doing if we want to reduce the injury rate while keeping the raucous noise! :D

    All in all I will NEVER support a strictly-enforced firecracker ban until the day comes when they can invent, market and popularize a much safer, less, if not non-explosive noise maker that can make just as much noise as our beloved firecrackers like the sawas, judas belts, triangulos, whistle bombs and super lolos of this world! The notorious Vuvuzelas (made famous by the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa) is probably a step in the right direction! Hope there’ll be more! :D

    • PS: The New Years I’ve experienced in the USA was 2007 and 2009. If I can help it, despite my family being there, I would not do that again! :D