City approves Rhythm and Booms chemical study

Madison’s City Council gave final approval on Feb. 28 for a $25,000 appropriation to test the Warner Park wetland for contaminates before and after this year’s Rhythm and Booms. The fireworks are scheduled for June 30.

Concern about fireworks pollution have been raised for years by Northsiders, and at least two tests were conducted, including one by R&B organizers. But the tests did not comply with scientific protocol.

Members of the city Committee on the Environment, led by Dr. Jim Bennett of UW Madison and Alder Anita Weier, proposed a study this year. The test will include samples of the sediment, plants and water. They will test for perchlorate, an oxidizing chemical in fireworks that is linked to thyroid disease, and heavy metals that give fireworks their beautiful colors.

The water will be tested before the fireworks, and one day, one week and one month after. Plants are being tested for long-term perchlorate uptake. City engineers, who will take the samples, expect that the sediment will show heavy contamination from storm sewers, streets and lawns. Nonetheless the information will help guide efforts to reduce the Northside pollution into Warner’s wetland and lagoon, and Lake Mendota.

The city appropriation will be supplemented by $2,000 grants from the Yahara Fishing Club and Golf Affect. Both the city and Wild Warner have applied for additional grants.
The additional money will allow more thorough sampling. All the money will be spent on laboratory analysis.

The council also approved a one-year contract for Rhythm and Booms, a contract that includes a requirement that organizers clean up debris on both and land and water. Some 13,000 shells are fired in less than an hour, leaving behind cardboard and other solid waste. The city spends nearly $100,000 supporting the fireworks every year, in both staff time and cash.

Wild Warner, an environmental group, testified in support of the study, arguing that the data would inform: 1) the upcoming Warner Park Master Plan, 2) DNR’s decision to rejuvenate the fishery in Warner Park, 3) the city’s decision on future fireworks displays, and 4) Northside residents who fish and play in its waters, and expect the park to be safe and healthy for humans and a wide variety of wildlife that use the park.