by Carmel Cacopardo
published November 7, 2009
Within the last three months, the law courts have expressed themselves twice on the impact of fireworks in Malta. The first being in late July on whether to stop the display of fireworks from the environs of the Marsa Sports Club. The second was last week on the constitutional application of the Zammit Maempel family relative to the impacts of fireworks on their residence in the area between Birkirkara and San Ġwann.
In the Marsa Sports Club case, the court explained that it had to conclude that the legislative arm of the government had not approved any legislation regulating noise levels to date.
In the Zammit Maempel case, on the other hand, the court underlined that plaintiffs knew all along and prior to taking up residence that the residential property they purchased was situated in an area used for fireworks display for years on end.
It also argued that the state had to seek a balance between the rights of those involved: those organising firework displays on the one hand and those at the receiving end on the other hand.
Earlier this year, in an article entitled The Value Of Silence (February 7) I had pointed out that the provisions of the EU Environmental Noise Directive (END) have not, to date, been implemented in Malta. When these provisions are eventually implemented, a vacuum on noise regulation in Malta would still exist as the directive deals primarily with transport-generated noise.
This vacuum would still require legislative action by the Maltese Parliament.
Other jurisdictions have acted to regulate noise pollution and have introduced legislation for this reason in most areas of modern life.
Fireworks display is known to be a major source of noise pollution during the summer months. Complaints by the public in this respect have been on the increase. Interestingly enough, however, the political parties represented in Parliament have hardly reacted as they are fearful of irritating the fireworks enthusiasts in the different towns and villages all over the islands. This may translate itself into a loss of votes, which they can ill-afford.
In the Zammit Maempel decision by the Constitutional Court there is reference to the expert testimony of ENT physician Alec Lapira who emphasised that impulsive noise levels have a negative effect on auditory health and may be the cause of “permanent hearing disability”. Now this effect on health cannot in my opinion be balanced out with the rights of fireworks enthusiasts to organise and enjoy the displays. Rather, it establishes a duty that the display of fireworks should be carried out in such a manner that health issues are not in any way compromised. If this means that the display of fireworks should be curtailed, then so be it.
An emphasis has been made on the impact of fireworks on humans and their property. Everyone, however, seems to be ignoring the impact of the excessive noise generated by fireworks on animals. Depending on the proximity and intensity of the noise generated, farm animals, pets and wild fauna are all affected negatively by the noise generated.
Also of utmost importance is the chemical composition of fireworks, which, as a result of detonation, form gases and minute solid deposits that may have a negative environmental impact.
The chemicals involved (mainly metal oxides and chlorides) have to be investigated scientifically in order to have a clear picture of the real impacts, if any, which such chemicals have on the quality of air as well as agricultural land and, possibly, on the water table. Such studies and continuous monitoring would establish whether and to what extent EU standards are being adhered to, in particular, those relative to the quality of air, soil and water resources.
Fireworks legislation in Malta is focused on the protection to be afforded to an inhabited area, this being defined as one having a potential residential capacity exceeding 100 human beings. An examination of this argument forms an important part of the Zammit Maempel case. The rural area and the countryside, however, do not feature at all in determining what merits protection.
By directing firework displays to areas classified as uninhabited (including those areas where fewer than 100 human beings live) it stands to reason that Maltese legislation only considers inhabited areas as worthy of protection. Legislation relative to the areas where fireworks can be displayed limits itself to protecting residential property and its occupants provided that this lies within an inhabited area! Sparsely populated areas, such as rural areas and agricultural land and facilities, are not considered worthy of protection. Nor can non-humans complain: they have no right of access to a court of law!
But, then, it is only humans who vote. Pigs, dogs, cats, birds, cows and the rest of the eco-system do not.
That explains it all.