Disneyland Fireworks Snuffed in China's Battle Against Smog

The Shanghai location of the theme park is set to open in June, but local officials say poor air quality could shut down pyrotechnic displays.

The under-construction Cinderella Castle of the Shanghai Disney Resort as seen in January. (Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

Jan 26, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

When Shanghai Disneyland opens in June, fans of the House of Mouse in mainland China will no longer have to travel to other countries to see Tinker Bell soar over Sleeping Beauty Castle. But thanks to the noxious air pollution problems plaguing the country, visitors to the theme park might get covered with more soot than pixie dust.

To keep that from happening, on Monday a local fire department official confirmed to Chinese media that on days when smog is out of control in the city, fireworks at Shanghai Disneyland will be banned. Shanghai already prohibits all fireworks displays in the city when air pollution levels rise above 201 on the Air Quality Index—and it seems the department isn't planning an exemption for Disneyland.

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The fire official’s remarks come on the heels of a sobering report released last week by the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau that found that air quality in the metropolis was worse in 2015 than in the previous year. There were eight days in 2015 when the air quality measured 300 or higher on the index, twice as many as in 2014. According to the index, which ranges from 0 to 500, only air quality between 0 and 50 is considered "good."

Yet Fan Xiping, the chairman of Shanghai Shendi Group, which is the Chinese partner of the Walt Disney Company, told local media that because the park will be outside Shanghai’s city center, the ban will not affect operations. Fan also said that the Shanghai Disneyland will use environmentally friendly pyrotechnics in its nightly fireworks shows. A Disney spokesperson confirmed that decision with the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

Fireworks that use compressed air instead of gunpowder have been in use at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, since 2004. Despite the change, some activists in the area have continued to express concerns—and have unsuccessfully filed suit—over Disneyland's fireworks, which they say send ash, sulfur, and contaminants such as zinc and nitrate showering down into their yards.

How enforcement of the fireworks ban plays out in the hot summer months remains to be seen. But tourists who head to the park might want to keep in mind that just because air pollution levels are below 201—low enough to permit the fireworks—doesn't mean the air is healthy to breathe.

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Roughly 70 percent of Shanghai's days in 2015 measured 100 or less on the index. Air quality that measures between 100 and 149 is considered dangerous for people with respiratory ailments, and levels between 150 and 200 are unsafe for everyone. Then again, given how fashionable oxygen masks have become in China, maybe folks will cope with smog by wearing them while waiting in line to snap a picture with Mickey Mouse.