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Don't Become a Fireworks Statistic This Year

Thousands of Americans are injured annually in backyard accidents

FRIDAY, July 2, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Every year as July 4 nears, health and safety experts issue impassioned warnings about the dangers of consumer fireworks.

And every year, thousands of Americans land in hospital emergency rooms with severe injuries ranging from lost limbs to lost sight.

This year, a coalition of groups hopes to hammer home the message that seemingly harmless fireworks are anything but that.

Ten health and safety organizations, ranging from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmology to the American Burn Association and the National Fire Protection Association, are calling for a ban on consumer fireworks and urging adults and children to steer clear of them. Instead, attend public fireworks displays this weekend, conducted by professionals, the groups recommend.

"Even in conditions where people think things are well-controlled, tragedy still happens," said Dr. Ronald P. Danis, an ophthalmologist at the University of Wisconsin. "I strongly endorse that the only really safe way to observe fireworks is by attending the public displays."

Need more proof that fireworks are dangerous? Consider this:

In 2003, emergency-room physicians treated an estimated 9,300 fireworks-related injuries. And there were six deaths. In 2002, there were 8,800 injuries and reports of four deaths -- two at professional fireworks displays and two associated with delayed explosions of aerial fireworks, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The injuries included:

  • A 12-year-old boy who suffered damage to his retina and pupil from a firecracker thrown at him.
  • A 44-year-old man who lost his left eye while bending over to relight a firework that unexpectedly went off.
  • A 3-year-old girl who sustained permanent damage to her iris when a firecracker hit a cement wall, flinging cement chips into her eye.
  • An 8-month-old baby who was struck by an aerial firework while in his mother's arms. His blanket caught fire, causing second-degree burns to his hands and left arm and third-degree burns on his face.

"We are very concerned that the number of injuries have increased, and I think it's important to get the word out that fireworks aren't something too fool around with," said Betsy van Die, media relations director for Prevent Blindness America, an eye health and safety group.

"There currently are only seven states that ban consumer fireworks," she added. "When I started three years ago, there were 10.

"Even in the states where they are banned, there's no enforcement," van Die continued. "They may bust someone who is bringing in large quantities of fireworks, but they don't bust the kids on the street who are setting off firecrackers."

About three times as many males were injured as females in 2002, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. About half the injuries happened to children under 15.

"Typically, we find there's a predictable demographic at risk, males under 14 or 15," Danis said. "There's something on the Y chromosome that promotes risky behavior."

Those risks include sparklers. They may seem like harmless fun, but they cause the greatest number of injuries among the different types of fireworks.

About 1,500 people were injured by sparklers in 2002, and sparklers accounted for about half the injuries to children younger than 5. Children aged 5 to 14 were injured by sparklers more frequently than any other type of fireworks.

"Sparklers can burn as hot as 1,800 degrees," van Die said. "Kids tend to run around with them, and they may accidentally poke someone in the eye."

Firecrackers were the second-most dangerous device, accounting for 1,000 injuries, and rockets followed with about 800 injuries.

Some of the most severe injuries come from bottle rockets, Danis said.

"They have enough energy and explosive power that they can cause a lot of damage, and they are unstable, unpredictable aerial projectiles," he said. "They also are very inexpensive and sold in large quantities, which promotes their use."

The parts of the body most often injured in 2002 were hands, which were treated in an estimated 1,800 emergency room visits. Eye injuries prompted 1,200 visits, followed by injuries to the head-face-ear region, requiring 1,000 visits.

Doctors and health advocates urge people who want to enjoy fireworks to go to one of the many public displays that are held around the Fourth of July, rather than setting off privately bought fireworks in their backyard.

More information

Learn more about the dangers of fireworks at Prevent Blindness America.

SOURCES: Betsy van Die, media relations director, Prevent Blindness America, Schaumburg, Ill.; Ronald P. Danis, M.D., ophthalmologist, University of Wisconsin, Madison
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