Health and Fire Safety Advocates Urge Ban on Consumer Fireworks

July 1, 2003
Six prominent health and fire safety advocates are calling for a ban on consumer fireworks use as Independence Day celebrations get underway.

The group consists of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the International Fire Marshals Association, the National Association of State Fire Marshals, and the National Fire Protection Association.

The coalition wants consumers to know that fireworks mistakenly thought to be safe, like sparklers (which can reach temperatures above 1,000 degrees F) can burn users and bystanders. In all, there were an estimated 9,500 injuries reported to hospital emergency departments in 2001, associated with legal and illegal fireworks, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Another 12 people died from injuries in fires started by fireworks in 1999, the latest year for which these figures are available, according to NFPA.

"The International Fire Marshals Association has long been concerned with the risk of death and injury from consumer fireworks, especially when they are in the hands of children and young adults who simply do not understand or appreciate the inherent danger they possess," said John F. Bender, president of the International Fire Marshals Association.

About half of all fireworks injuries in 2001 occurred among those under age 15, with nearly two-thirds suffered by those under age 20. The highest injury rates were among teens, according to CPSC. Males accounted for three-fourths of fireworks injuries.

Nearly half of 2001 injuries were to the head (43.1 percent), and nearly half were to extremities (48.2%), primarily to the hand or finger (31 percent of total injuries). Injuries to the head were primarily to the eye (27.6 percent). Some of these latter injuries resulted in permanent blindness.

The majority of 2001 fireworks injuries were burns (58.9 percent). Contusions and lacerations were second (19.6 percent), and contusions, lacerations and foreign bodies were the leading type of injury when the injury was to the eye.

In 2001, eight out of nine (88.5 percent) fireworks injuries treated in the hospital emergency department involved fireworks that federal regulations permit consumers to use.

"Every year, emergency physicians continue to see the tragic consequences of fireworks in the emergency department. Many people have severe hand injuries or left permanently scarred from burns. Other individuals lose their vision, or sustain other injuries after using them," said George Molzen, MD, president, American College of Emergency Physicians. "To prevent these types of tragedies, emergency physicians recommend Americans celebrate the holiday safely by attending a public fireworks display and forgo personal-use fireworks, which are known to cause most injuries and deaths."

In all, there were nearly 24,200 fires associated with fireworks use in 1999, according to NFPA statistics. Most of the fires were outdoor brush or refuse fires. These fires may have begun with outdoor use of fireworks. For example, when a device is launched outside and lands on a roof or other location, it can ignite combustibles before being retrieved. These fires cost approximately $17.2 million in property damage. Most of the loss occurred in fires with structures. In a typical year, on the Independence Day holiday, fireworks cause more fires in the U.S. than all other causes of fire combined.

"Consumer fireworks are dangerous. Children and young people should never be allowed to handle or be near any type of consumer fireworks. Enjoy a safe 4th of July by attending a public fireworks display in your community," said Don Bliss, president of the National Association of State Fire Marshals.

At present, only seven states ban all consumer fireworks. Such bans have been linked to significantly lower rates of fireworks-related injuries and fires.

"Since 1910, NFPA has crusaded against the consumer use of fireworks. There is no safe way to use these devices," said NFPA President and CEO James M. Shannon. "They endanger not only the users, but also bystanders, resulting in serious injuries and deaths every year. They cause thousands of fires and destroy surrounding property and structures. We advocate celebrating our nation's independence at public fireworks displays, conducted by the professionals."

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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