Nothing says “Fourth of July” better than a dazzling fireworks display, and many Americans are, no doubt, looking forward to partaking in a few fireworks of their own as they celebrate.
And while fireworks can, indeed, be safe and fun, it’s important to remember that they can also be dangerous, even deadly.
“Fireworks-related injuries are most common on and around holidays associated with fireworks celebrations, especially July 4th and New Year’s Eve,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2007, for instance, there were 9,800 estimated fireworks-related injuries, according to The National Council on Fireworks Safety.
A Breakdown of Fireworks-Related Injuries
About 60 percent of fireworks-related injuries occur in the month surrounding the July 4th holiday. Unfortunately, children 14 years and younger are often the ones hurt, as they sustain about 45 percent of injuries related to fireworks. What types of fireworks cause the most injuries?
• Firecrackers (26 percent)
• Sparklers (17 percent)
• Rockets (17 percent)
Injuries from fireworks are most likely to harm your hands, eyes, head, face or ears, the CDC reports, and burns account for more than half of the injuries.
Although some injuries are minor, fireworks have been associated with blindness, third-degree burns, permanent scarring and life-threatening residential and vehicle fires.
Even Sparklers Can be Dangerous
Most people associate fireworks dangers with professional or illegal fireworks.
Cherry bombs, M-80′s, and silver salutes are examples of three fireworks that have been banned in the United States. (They were banned in 1966 for containing large amount of explosives.)
However, even legal consumer fireworks can cause injury, and this includes a favorite for children, sparklers.
The majority of injuries from sparklers occur in young children, and are often burns to the hands and legs. When you consider that sparklers burn at up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to melt gold — you get an idea of why safety is so important.
“Fireworks injuries in general are caused by so-called legal fireworks that federal regulations permit consumers to use,” Dr. Stuart Dankner, pediatric ophthalmologist, said on WJZ.com. “Sparklers … account for the vast majority of eye injuries to children under age five. Sparklers burn at temperatures close to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt gold and certainly hot enough to permanently scar, disfigure, and blinding a young child’s eye.”
The National Council on Fireworks Safety offers these tips to greatly reduce the risk of injury to young children using sparklers:
• Children under the age of 12 should not use sparklers without very close adult supervision.
• Always remain standing while using sparklers.
• Never hold a child in your arms while using sparklers.
• Never hold, or light, more than one sparkler at a time.
• Sparklers and bare feet can be a painful combination. Always wear closed-toe shoes when using sparklers.
• Sparkler wire and stick remain hot long after the flame has gone out. Be sure to drop the spent sparklers directly in a bucket of water.
• Never hand a lighted sparkler to another person. Give them the unlit sparkler and then light it.
• Always stand at least six feet from another person while using sparklers.
• Never throw sparklers.
• Show children how to hold sparklers away from their body and at arm’s length.
• Teach children not to wave sparklers, especially wooden stick sparklers, or run while holding sparklers.
More Fireworks Safety Tips
One very safe way to enjoy fireworks is to take advantage of the free professional fireworks displays offered by your local municipality. But if you’re planning to celebrate this Independence Day with a few fireworks of your own, here are tips to keep you safe from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:
• Do not allow young children to play with fireworks under any circumstances. Sparklers, considered by many the ideal “safe” firework for the young, burn at very high temperatures and can easily ignite clothing. Children cannot understand the danger involved and cannot act appropriately in case of emergency.
• Older children should only be permitted to use fireworks under close adult supervision. Do not allow any running or horseplay.
• Light fireworks outdoors in a clear area away from houses, dry leaves or grass and flammable materials.
• Keep a bucket of water nearby for emergencies and for pouring on fireworks that don’t go off.
• Do not try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks. Douse and soak them with water and throw them away.
• Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.
• Never ignite fireworks in a container, especially a glass or metal container.
• Keep unused fireworks away from firing areas.
• Store fireworks in a dry, cool place. Check instructions for special storage directions.
• Observe local laws.
• Never have any portion of your body directly over a firework while lighting.
• Don’t experiment with homemade fireworks.
And Now for the Fun Fireworks Facts!
Because we can never get enough “fireworks” talk around the Fourth of July, here are some interesting fireworks facts to enjoy and share with your friends and family:
1. Macy’s department store in New York City claims to hold the world’s largest fireworks display. Every year at 9 p.m. on July 4, four barges in the East River, set just between 23rd and 42nd streets, set off 20,000 aerial shells and special effects. The New York Fire Department also operates “fire boats” on the river that shoot red, clear and blue water 300 feet into the air.
2. This American tradition has much older roots than most people know, and actually didn’t originate in America at all. In fact, it’s said that the first fireworks came from China in the 800s, when bamboo shoots were filled with gunpowder and set off at the New Year to ward off evil spirits.
3. In 2008, Americans used over 213 million pounds of fireworks, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) – about 186 million pounds were used by consumers, and 27 million pounds for displays.
4. The U.S. fireworks industry brought in $940 million in revenues in 2008, up from $350 million in 1997, according to APA.
5. The legal limit of explosive material allowed in a consumer firework is 50 mg (about the size of half an aspirin tablet), according to APA. Any item containing more than 50 mg is illegal.
6.The dazzling displays of color during fireworks occur because of different chemicals added to the gunpowder. According to APA, the marks of an expert pyrotechnician are deep blues and white bursts … so keep an eye out for those during your Fourth of July fireworks show!