Consumer fireworks have always been a target of negative attention during the time of late June and early July, when parts of the U.S. media begin their annual war against fireworks. The media warps and twists the image of fireworks in an effort to make them seem like one of the most dangerous consumer products on the market; something that regular people should have no right to use. TV news stations attempt to “prove” how dangerous fireworks are by showing ridiculous demonstrations such as a cop blowing up a watermelon or a teddy bear with M-80s or other completely illegal explosives, then proceed to say that fireworks should only be used by professionals. Letters also start pouring into the “Dear Abby” column of newspapers, where readers tell horror stories of how their 5-year old son burnt his hand with a sparkler or blew it off with an M-80. Before people actually believe any of this at surface value, they need to look at the real facts.
In nearly all of these cases, the injuries resulted from illegal explosives, or the misuse of legal fireworks, deliberate or not. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not unsympathetic about these accidents. It is a nothing less than a tragedy when people lose fingers and eyes, or when young children get horribly burned. However, it’s not right for fireworks to be blamed when there was a complete lack of safety precautions in these situations.
Let’s have a look at the Consumer Product Safety Commission‘s 2004 Fireworks Annual Report, published in July of 2005. During that year, approximately 9,600 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries in hospitals across the United States, about 69% of which occurred during the month surrounding the 4th of July holiday (June 19th – July 19th). Seems like a high number, doesn’t it? Well, let’s research exactly what causes these injuries, and who they happen to. All of the statistics below, unless otherwise noted, were obtained directly from the above document published by the CPSC.
According to the above mentioned report, 40% of fireworks injuries happened to children under 15 years of age, 23% of which happen to children under the age of five. I find that amazing. First of all, young children should not be allowed to use fireworks. Let me say that again for emphasis: SHOULD NOT. TV and newspapers are always quick to jump on this fact, proclaiming that fireworks should be banned “for the good of the children”. However, all fireworks in the United States are required to have a caution label printed on the side. If people would actually take the five seconds time required to read it, they’d clearly see lines such as “warning”, “not a toy”, and “not to be used by children”. How could that be any clearer? Even if there weren’t warning labels, I would think parental common sense should come into the picture when it comes to children and fireworks. Think about it…. Would you let your kid play with a stove? A clothes iron? A blowtorch? Of course not. So what makes fireworks any different? If you give ANY consumer product to kids that wasn’t meant to be used by them, chances are they will get hurt. Funny how no one ever calls into question a parent’s sense of judgment after they gave their young son some firecrackers to play with. If people would simply not allow children to play with fireworks, the annual firework injuries would drop from 9,300 to around 5,100!
What about types of injuries? The three fireworks that cause the most injuries are firecrackers (1100), rockets (900), and sparklers (1100).
Sparkler burn cases to young kids annoy me the most. It is about 50% of sparkler injuries happen to children under five. I don’t get why the hell anyone would hand their toddler a 1000 degree rod of burning hot metal in the first place. Yet it happened 550 times during June 20-July 20, 2003. Incredible! If a parent were to hand their young child a hot soldering iron and the child got burned, people would think those parents are idiots. Yet when parents give their kids sparklers and they get burned, the whole town rallies together to push for a fireworks ban! See the problem here?
Then comes the firecracker category, supposedly responsible for 1600 injuries during the holiday period. Yet for some reason, the CPSC chooses to include injuries from explosives such as M-80s, quarter sticks, silver salutes, cherry bombs, and the like, despite the fact they are not fireworks. They’re not even “illegal fireworks”. They’re ILLEGAL EXPLOSIVES, which were banned in1966 as part of the Child Protection Act. According to the 2003 Report, they’re responsible for 13% of all firecracker injuries (this has actually gone down from 20% in 2002 – great news!). See this page for information on M-80s and their dangers.
It’s common knowledge that many people fool around with fireworks: they point them at each other, use them while intoxicated, or generally ignore all proper precautions. The 2003 Report even lists dozens of documented injury cases, many of which occur as a result of somebody holding, throwing, or pointing fireworks at somebody else. People seem to forget that fireworks are explosives. They are capable of causing injuries, and they must be treated with respect. Take rockets for instance. ANY pack of rockets will specifically instruct the user to launch the device from a tube. When used in this way, it is highly unlikely that the device won’t perform properly. Most people know the “right” way to use bottle rockets and sky rockets, but often times it doesn’t stop them from holding them in their hands, pointing them at animals or friends, and so on. People often hold roman candles, despite the warning not to. I’ve even seen kids holding Saturn Missile Batteries and launching them at each other! I’m willing to bet that each and every one of you readers have witnessed this sometime in your life. As with any other consumer product, if someone uses it the WRONG WAY, they will get hurt. If I were to get into a bathtub of water, then plug in a hair dryer (exactly what the warning label says not to do) and drop it in and electrocute myself, would that be a very good reason for my family to push for a ban on hair dryers (or sue the manufacturer)? No, because it’s stupid. Remember, because it deals with high-temperature, explosive chemical reactions, fireworks is not a perfect science: sometimes a damaged or faulty firework will explode for no apparent reason. It happens. But often times when it does, somebody is holding the device, and they get injured! I want to stress my point again: if everybody who bought legal fireworks used them properly, most of these injuries would not happen!
The good news is, despite the number of people who misuse fireworks, the injuries caused each year has been gradually declining, while fireworks consumption has gone up. From the year 1990 though 2003, fireworks related injuries have dropped from 12,000 to 9,300. However, at the same time, fireworks usage has more than tripled from 67.6 million pounds in 1990 to 220.8 million pounds in 2003!! Why? Consumer fireworks are becoming much safer, and the public is becoming more and more educated on the proper use of fireworks. Source: Fireworks-Related Injury Rates
Fireworks- Related Fires:
So how many fires happen as a result of fireworks? Have a look at this PDF file, courtesy of the American Pyrotechnics Association. In 1997, there were approximately 657,000 fires in the United States. Fireworks were responsible for 2,532 of these – less than 0.3%! (and this doesn’t take into account that many of those were likely caused by the misuse of fireworks!) Compare this with other common household forms of ignition: short circuits, for instance, are responsible for 7.5% of those fires. The average person is 25 times more likely to have their house burnt down by electricity than fireworks.
What’s really hurting kids, these days? According to the CPSC’s Injury Surveillance Report for the year 2000 (summarized here), fireworks are responsible for only 9 out of 100,000 emergency room treatments from children aged 5-14. Compare this with pens/pencils, which cause 35, skateboards, which cause 126, and bicycles, which cause 847! The average child is four times more likely to visit the emergency room from a writing utensil injury than they are from fireworks!
Effects of Prohibition
Though anti-fireworks people are constantly pushing for the ban on all consumer fireworks, they seldom think about what the possible consequences could be. The fact is, fireworks have been part of American history since this country’s earliest days. There will never be an end to the demand for fireworks, despite any restrictive laws the government could put in place. People will always find ways of buying and letting off fireworks, regardless. Just look what happened when alcohol was banned in the United States earlier last century – did the Prohibition act “solve” the problem? Of course not. The market for alcohol was driven underground, forcing people to drink secretly and illegally at speakeasies. People consumed alcohol, despite the law (which was later repealed because of it’s ineffectiveness). The same goes with fireworks. Fireworks can be banned, but the demand will not disappear. So rather than people obtaining fireworks legally from stands, they will be forced to start buying illegal explosives out of dealers’ cars, garages, or in a dark alley somewhere – or worse yet, attempt to make their own fireworks.
There are only two options: keep fireworks legal, which allows people to buy regulated, laboratory-tested fireworks from legitimate dealers, OR, ban them, thus creating a dangerous black market for explosives.
As I mentioned near the beginning of this article, fireworks face strong opposition each year from people who know very little about them, and just want them banned. Do you part to not let these people ruin the reputation of fireworks. If you see an anti-fireworks article or letter in your newspaper or on TV, write to them and tell them the truth. You’re welcome to use the facts listed on this page. You can use my sources of information, as well – the Consumer Product Safety Comission website, and the injury statistics tables from the American Pyrotechnics Association (which all were from the CPSC, anyways). These statistics aren’t random numbers created and or warped by pro-fireworks people: they’re cold, hard facts researched by a government agency. Remember, the CPSC is not a pro-fireworks organization.
The bottom line is that fireworks are not a dangerous product, compared with countless other products we use in our day-to-day lives but never even think about.. If used correctly and safely, they can provide great joy, happiness, and entertainment to lots of people, with far less risk of injury than other recreational products.