Big Bang Theory: Should We Leave Fireworks to the Professionals?

Fireworks shows will light up the sky across the U.S. on Friday night, as towns big and small celebrate the Fourth of July. But growing consumer use of fireworks has safety and medical groups concerned, while the industry's trade association cites declining injuries despite more backyard pyrotechnics displays.

“Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it.”

That line, from a 1996 episode of The Simpsons, snarkily underlines the lingering conflict between the popularity of fireworks on the Fourth of July and the dangers they can pose when used improperly. You know, like this:


So it only makes sense that associations (some of which are involved in creating the brilliantly colored explosives) would weigh in on fireworks safety at this time of year:

National Fire Protection Association: NFPA discourages consumers from setting off their own fireworks, recommending in this 2008 animated clip that they leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals. In a fact sheet [PDF], NFPA reports that 8,700 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2012 and that even more-modest fireworks, such as sparklers and fountains, led to a significant number of those injuries. NFPA is a cofounder of the Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks, a coalition of groups that warn the public about fireworks hazards. Other members include the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the American Burn Association.

American Academy of Pediatrics: AAP, also a founding member of the alliance, has emphasized the dangers of sparklers in particular. “Notably, sparklers, which are mistakenly believed to be safe by many consumers, caused 10 percent of these fireworks-related injuries,” AAP noted in a 2001 statement that has since been reaffirmed numerous times. “Although most sparkler-related injuries are minor burns and corneal abrasions, sparklers can reach temperatures greater than 1000°F at the tip and can cause serious burns by igniting clothing. One study found that two thirds of injuries from sparklers occurred among children 5 years and younger.” AAP urges pediatricians to encourage parents and children to attend professional sky shows and supports bans on private fireworks displays and public sales of pyrotechnics.

American Pyrotechnics Association: Not surprisingly, this fireworks-industry group has a different take. It notes that despite a “liberalization” of state laws on consumer fireworks, resulting in increased usage, injuries have declined in recent years. “Consumption of fireworks in the United States has risen dramatically during the past three decades, from 41 million pounds in 1980 to over 207.5 million pounds in 2012,” APA says in a fact sheet [PDF]. “During this period of unprecedented growth, fireworks injuries have declined dramatically due to industry safety education efforts and the ever improving quality of its products.” The organization offers tips to keep consumers safe—wear safety goggles, keep sparklers and fireworks away from children, and have a garden hose or bucket of water handy—as well as a directory of state fireworks control laws.

“While the number of fireworks-related injuries and fires have declined significantly, this is not the time for consumers to be lax about safety,” APA Executive Director Julie Heckman said in a recent statement. “Consumers should always keep safety top-of-mind by following common sense safety tips when using backyard fireworks as well as obeying all local fireworks laws.”

Homer Simpson is an icon of fireworks safety. (20th Century Fox)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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