The Fourth of July is just around the corner and you may be making plans to gather family and friends for the big Independence Day celebration.
If your festivities include fireworks, proceed with caution.
Fireworks are a fun way to mark special holidays and other events, but they cause thousands of injuries each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
“While fireworks can be a fun summer tradition, they can also be dangerous when not used safely,” says Jacqueline Brysacz, a family nurse practitioner at Lancaster Health Center.
Fireworks do the most harm to your hands, face and eyes. Children are especially vulnerable to permanent loss since their fingers and hands are so small.
Each year, as many as 400 Americans lose vision permanently in one or both eyes due to injuries caused by fireworks, and more than half of all fireworks-related eye injuries occur on the Fourth of July, according to the eye experts at the American Society of Ocular Trauma.
More than 18,500 reported fires are started by fireworks annually, reports the NFPA.
What Pennsylvania law says
Pennsylvania recently changed its fireworks law, and some municipalities in Lancaster County now have different rules regarding how fireworks are used.
In response to the state law, Lancaster city passed an ordinance last year making it illegal to set off consumer fireworks on city-owned property, leaving few places that would be both privately owned and 150 feet from occupied structures.
Check with your municipality to learn more about local ordinances that you must follow.
Anyone 18 or older can purchase and use “consumer-grade” fireworks that include firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets and similar devices that have no more than 50 milligrams of explosive material.
Meanwhile, “display fireworks,” which are used in shows and contain more than two grains or 130 milligrams of explosive materials, and professional-grade aerial shells containing more than 60 grams of pyrotechnic compositions can only be used by professionals with a permit from the municipality where the display will take place.
Violating the state law carries a penalty of up to $100.
If you choose to use fireworks
While most people recognize that large fireworks are dangerous, some tend to underestimate the power of the smaller explosives.
“It is important that children are not allowed to light fireworks themselves and that all fireworks, including sparklers, be used with adult supervision,” says Dr. Jennifer Brubaker, a health care provider at LHC.
These devices are not necessarily safer. In fact, they account for the majority of all fireworks-related injuries. Sparklers get hotter than 1200 degrees Fahrenheit and can cause injuries even when pointed away from everyone. They can quickly ignite clothing, and children have received severe burns from dropping sparklers on their feet.
“This is especially true for younger revelers. It is also recommended to enjoy professional fireworks displays and we do not recommend personal displays given the risks of misuse as these can often result in burns and in some cases even death,” says Brysacz.
If consumer fireworks are legal to buy where you live and you choose to use them, be sure to follow the following safety tips to avoid risk of injury:
- Never allow children to handle fireworks.
- Never use fireworks if you are under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance or another drug.
- Wear protective eyewear if you are using fireworks or standing nearby.
- Do not allow smoking or open flames near a fireworks storage or firing area.
- Never ignite or discharge fireworks on public or private property without express permission of the property owner.
- Always discharge fireworks more than 150 feet away from occupied structures, whether or not a person is inside at the time. Only use them away from people, houses and flammable material.
- Never discharge them from or within a motor vehicle or building, or toward a motor vehicle or building.
- Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
- Only light one device at a time and maintain a safe distance after lighting.
- Never ignite devices in a container.
- Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks that have been ignited but failed to immediately explode or discharge, since they may still be active.
- Soak both spent and unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding.
- Keep a bucket of water nearby to extinguish fireworks that don't go off or in case of fire.
- Never use illegal fireworks.
If you do use fireworks, make sure they are legal. Illegal explosives are dangerous because of their composition and unpredictability. Some indicators that a device may be an illegal explosive are:
- It resembles a roll of coins with a fuse.
- It consists of a cardboard tube or oddly shaped item wrapped in brown paper and filled with an explosive material.
- It is red, silver or brown in color
- It may be 1 to 6 inches long and up to an inch or more in diameter.
- It’s sold on the street or out of the back of someone's vehicle.
Safer alternatives for children
You can still make your Fourth of July celebration glow by using the following safer alternatives, especially around children. They are easy to use and are available in the patriotic red, white and blue to give your event a festive flair.
- Glow sticks
- Glow-in-the-dark bubbles
- L.E.D. balloons
- Patriotic confetti poppers
- Glow in the dark silly string