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This Holiday Weekend, Leave Fireworks to the Pros

Thousands of Americans are injured each year by backyard firecrackers, sparklers

SATURDAY, July 2, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Like picnics and parades, public-service warnings about the hazards of consumer fireworks are a fixture of every Fourth of July celebration.

And every year, thousands of Americans ignore that advice, paying with mangled hands, lost vision -- even loss of life.

"It's particularly harrowing for us because every year we have seen adults and children who thought they could outfox themselves and have suffered horribly," said Dr. Pamela F. Gallin, director of pediatric ophthalmology at the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute, part of Columbia University.

"It's terrible. And it's all preventable," she added.

Emergency room physicians treated an estimated 9,300 fireworks-related injuries in 2003, up from 8,800 the year before, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Nearly three-quarters of those injuries occurred during the one-month period surrounding July 4th. About 6,800 injuries were treated between June 20 and July 20, up from 5,700 injuries during the same period in 2002.

Children remain a particularly vulnerable group. Almost half of the injuries reported in 2003 -- 43 percent -- happened to children under the age of 15.

"Every year consumer fireworks injure and maim our children," James M. Shannon, president and CEO of the National Fire Protection Association, said in a statement. "Consumer fireworks are a significant public safety concern shared by doctors, nurses, other health care professionals, and members of the fire service."

The association is one of 21 health and fire-safety advocacy organizations -- including the American Academy of Pediatrics -- that are urging consumers not to use fireworks, including sparklers, this July 4 weekend because of the injuries and damage they cause.

Among different types of fireworks, firecrackers cause the greatest number of wounds, producing 1,600 injuries in 2003, followed by bottle rockets at 1,000 and sparklers at 700, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Although they seem innocuous, sparklers can burn as hot as 1,800 degrees. Of 700 estimated sparkler injuries in 2003, about 400 happened to children age 5 or younger.

Fireworks-related injuries most frequently involve hands and fingers, making up 26 percent of total injuries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eyes are injured 21 percent of the time, while the head and face are harmed 18 percent of the time.

More than half the injuries, 63 percent, are burns. People suffer contusions and lacerations about 18 percent of the time.

But injuries don't tell the whole story.

In 2002, the latest year for which national fireworks-related fire statistics are available, fire departments responded to an estimated 3,000 structure and vehicle fires started by fireworks. Those fires caused $28 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Currently, only six states ban all consumer fireworks: Arizona, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. The estimated injury risk from legal fireworks is 14 times higher in states that permit sparklers and "novelties," compared to states that ban all fireworks. In states that permit most or all consumer fireworks, the estimated injury risk is 57 times higher than "full-ban" states, the association reported.

To play it safe, people should attend the professional fireworks displays put on by cities, civic groups and businesses, rather than host their own private shows using bottle rockets and other fireworks they've bought themselves, Gallin said.

Prevent Blindness America recommends that parents tell their children not to gather with people lighting fireworks -- even adults.

More information

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

SOURCES: Pamela F. Gallin, M.D., director, pediatric ophthalmology, Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute, Columbia University, New York City; news release, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, Mass.
Consumer News