What do fountains, wheels, volcanoes, mines and snakes have in common? They are all fireworks! Fireworks are a common way to celebrate special events. However, they can also be dangerous.  It is important to use fireworks safely, and to be aware of laws that apply.

Many of the laws about fireworks in Canada are in the federal Explosives Act and regulations, administered by the Explosives Regulatory Division of Natural Resources Canada.  Only fireworks authorized under the Explosives Regulations can be made, transported, sold, possessed or used in Canada.  Contact the Explosives Regulatory Division if you have questions about whether particular fireworks are authorized in Canada.

The Explosives Act categorizes fireworks as Consumer, Special Effect Fireworks, or Display Fireworks.  Consumer Fireworks are the type we buy for recreational use.  You do not need to be certified by Natural Resources Canada to use them.    Consumer fireworks include things like roman candles, sparklers, fountains, wheels and snakes.  

Special Effect and Display Fireworks are only for licensed professionals!  You must be certified by Natural Resources Canada to use them.   

You must be at least 18 to buy fireworks, and anyone under 18 who uses fireworks must be supervised by an adult.  Stores selling fireworks can be charged if they sell fireworks to a person under 18. 

When transporting fireworks in your car, keep in mind that it is against the law to smoke or carry any accelerants like gasoline in the vehicle. The fireworks must be in your trunk, away from the driver and any passengers.

Nova Scotia's Fire Safety Act adopts the National Fire Code of Canada and imposes fire safety guidelines on the use of fireworks.   Natural Resources Canada has helpful instructions for the safe use of consumer fireworks, and also issues safety alerts about certain types of fireworks.

It is against the law to use fireworks in Nova Scotia’s provincial parks, unless you have special permission - which you need to get well in advance.  Contact Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources and Renewables for information about obtaining permission.  Municipal by-laws may also prohibit or limit the use of fireworks if it disturbs a residential area. For example, noise by-laws in both the Halifax (By-law N-200) and Cape Breton (By-law N-100) regional municipalities make it an offence to unreasonably disturb the peace by setting off fireworks in a residential area at any time; however, fireworks are allowed on certain days, including Canada Day, Natal Day (in HRM) or civic holidays (in CBRM), New Year’s Eve, and recognized religious holidays.   It is a good idea to check with your neighbours ahead of time before you set off fireworks, so they know when and where you plan to set them off.

Check with your local municipality about any by-law restrictions on use of consumer fireworks in your community. You’ll find contact information for your municipality online at novascotia.ca/dma/government/contact.asp.  Check Nova Scotia's Office of the Fire Marshal for information about any restrictions, including burn bans. If open fires are not permitted in your part of the province, setting off consumer fireworks is not allowed.

With all of these guidelines in mind, it is also a good idea to think about the environmental and health effects of fireworks, and consider taking steps to limit these dangers. Fireworks are very exciting sources of entertainment, but there are very real negative and potentially dangerous effects. The volume and suddenness of fireworks has been known to cause pets to run away and hurt themselves. As well, fireworks may trigger a severe reaction from people who suffer from PTSD, and those with asthma or other respiratory illnesses may have a heightened risk of an attack.

There are also lasting environmental effects from the chemical reactions in the explosions themselves. Many of the elements used in fireworks, when set off in fireworks, become some of the toxic greenhouse gases associated with climate change. According to evolutionary ecologist, ornithologist, science writer and journalist Devorah Bennu,

“When inhaled or ingested, these metals can cause a huge variety of short- and long-term reactions, ranging from vomiting, diarrhea or asthma attacks, to kidney disease, cardiotoxic effects and a variety of cancers.”

What’s more, pollutants from fireworks can travel far away from where they are set off, and they can remain in the air, ground and water for long periods of time, causing further damage. You can check out Devorah Bennu's article here about the short and long term effects that pollution from fireworks can have on the environment and on people.

Some safer and less polluting alternatives to fireworks which are pretty popular right now are light shows, laser shows, or drone light shows, in which drones with lights on them fly in formation to make fun shapes and designs in a programmed routine. For entertainment at home, try glow sticks, balloons with LED lights in them (or anything else that lights up safely), or biodegradable confetti cannons! Additionally, quiet fireworks are becoming more popular to use – centring pyrotechnics over loud explosions.

Finally, follow all COVID-19 public health rules.

Be safe!

Reviewed June 2022