Question of the Week

June 27, 2005

The Fourth of July will be here soon, and with that comes a sharp increase in the use of fireworks around the country. Unfortunately, as usage goes up, so do property damage and personal injuries.

"*In 2002, an estimated 3,000 reported structure or vehicle fires were started by fireworks. These resulted in no deaths, 60 injuries and $29 million in direct property damage.
* In 2003, 9,300 people were treated at hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries. Burns were the leading type of fireworks injury (63%). Contusions and lacerations were second (18%), and were equal in share to burns when the injury was to any part of the head or face, including the eye. Hands or fingers were the part of the body injured in 26% of the incidents. In 20% of the cases, the eye was involved, and other parts of the face or head accounted for 17% of the injuries.
* Pre-teens and teenagers face the highest risk of fireworks injuries. In 2003, 60% of people injured by fireworks were under the age of 20, with 45% of the injuries incurred by those under age 15. The highest injury rate relative to population was for ages 5 to 9, with 8.9 times the risk for the entire population. ..."
National Fire Prevention Association

Those under the age of 20 have the highest risk of getting injured (though adults are not immune), with thousands of children and teens injured by fireworks each year. While celebrating with family and friends, it is often difficult (or at least no fun) to think about the other side of the sparkle.

"[F]ireworks can turn a joyful celebration into a painful memory when children and adults are injured while using fireworks. Although legal consumer fireworks that comply with the CPSC regulations can be relatively safe, all fireworks are hazardous and can cause injury. Fireworks are classified as hazardous substances under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. Some fireworks such as illegal firecracker type devices (M-80's, quarter sticks) and professional display fireworks should never be used or handled by consumers or children due to serious injuries and death that can and do occur from such use or handling."

Different states, counties, even cities have varying levels of regulations when it comes to the use of fireworks by non-professionals. At the state level, the country is divided as follows:

"States that allow some or all types of consumer fireworks permitted by federal regulations (39 states + DC), States that allow only wire or wood stick sparklers and other novelty items (5 states: IL, IA, ME, OH, VT), States that ban all consumer fireworks (5 states: DE, MA, NJ, NY, RI), [and] States that allow only novelty items (1 state: AZ)"

Even if your state allows their use, your city or county may still ban fireworks for various reasons. You will need to check local regulations. Whatever the laws, it is important to understand that there are reasons behind them.

"'There is a reason why fireworks are illegal in New York State -- each year, people are seriously injured as a result of playing with fireworks,' said Daniels. 'People not only risk arrest, they also risk the strong possibility of suffering a lifelong injury by using fireworks.' ... Nearly two-thirds of fireworks-related injuries are caused by backyard fireworks such as firecrackers, bottle rockets and sparklers. However, the most severe injuries are typically caused by fireworks such as M-80's, rockets and cherry bombs. ... 'This year, I urge people to avoid needless injuries and fire damage by leaving fireworks to the professionals,' said Secretary Daniels. 'Attending a public fireworks display is a safe and enjoyable way to celebrate Independence Day.'"

Maybe fireworks are legal where you live. Maybe you don't want to go to a professional display.

"If fireworks are legal where you live and you decide to set them off on your own, be sure to follow these important safety tips:
* Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks
* Read and follow all warnings and instructions
* Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.
* Only light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from the house, dry leaves, and flammable materials.
* Never try to relight fireworks that have not fully functioned.
* Keep a bucket of water in case of a malfunction or fire."

Questions of the Week:
What fireworks regulations exist where you live? Why might it be more dangerous to set off fireworks in some parts of the country? Why might these same fireworks be safer in other regions? What risks and potential dangers can be found no matter where you are? Why do you think some states have stricter laws than others? How can you safely (and legally) celebrate this Fourth of July?

For more information and questions, you can visit the "Fireworks Safety" Question of the Week from 2004:

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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