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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 58.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Environmental concerns remain over moving Rhythm & Booms fireworks show to Lake Monona
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A majority voiced opposition to shooting the fireworks over Lake Monona.
Credit:Julia Cechvala

It looks like concerns over the environmental impacts of Rhythm & Booms will follow the fireworks show from its original location in Warner Park to downtown Madison.

At a special meeting Thursday of Madison's Committee on the Environment, citizens and elected officials expressed skepticism that shooting off fireworks over Lake Monona would be safe for the lake and its ecosystems.

"I'm hearing a lot of pseudo-science," said science teacher Karen Mattioni. And Dane County Sup. Kyle Richmond accused Madison Festivals, Inc., which took over the show last year from founder Terry Kelly, of "greenwashing" -- that is, spinning the event as environmentally friendly.

Madison Festivals president Rita Kelliher kicked off the public forum with a presentation on the materials used for the fireworks and the mechanics of the show. "The great majority of the chemicals and heavy metals in the fireworks are decomposed in the explosion," she said.

City hydrogeologist Brynn Bemis reviewed the findings of an environmental study done at the Warner Park lagoon, which found a spike and then a drop-off in perchlorate, the rocket propellant used in fireworks. Bemis said she would expect a shorter-lived perchlorate spike in Lake Monona since the chemical would dilute faster in the lake. She also addressed concerns about the safety of swimming in or eating fish out of the lake, saying the chemical is not absorbed through skin and studies show it does not build up in animal tissue.

Many in the audience were not persuaded, however, and a majority voiced opposition to shooting the fireworks over Lake Monona.

Kelliher said city officials praised her group for its clean-up after this summer's show. But former Madison school board member Lucy Matthiak showed the committee bags of fireworks debris she picked up in Warner Park in the days after the show.

Ald. Marsha Rummel, whose district includes a portion of Lake Monona shoreline, doubted the environmental impact would be as small as Madison Festivals portrayed. She also questioned what governing body actually has authority to permit and regulate activities on Madison's lakes and was not convinced it was the Committee on the Environment.

"We've only been asked to get some public input," said Steve Fix, chair of the committee, who added the committee could make recommendations to the city divisions responsible for permitting the event. To make those recommendations the committee hoped to get more information from Madison Festivals and the fireworks manufacturer. Committee member Tim Baker, for one, would like more answers. "How much stuff is being sent up and what's the chemical composition of what's left?"

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