This article originally appeared on Healthy Child, Healthy World and was reprinted with the author’s permission.
To many Americans, July 4 means one thing – fireworks.
But for an alarming number of people – especially children – fireworks can spell serious injury.
While the risk is fairly low at a large public display, setting off fireworks in your backyard or neighborhood? That’s playing with fire – literally.
Some 10,500 people visited an emergency room with a fireworks-related injury in 2014, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports.
At greatest risk were children ages 5 to 9. Thirty-five percent of the injured were under 15, and nearly half were under 20.
Fireworks are made of an explosive cocktail of chemicals, starting with gunpowder (“black powder”) for fuel. More chemicals are added to lend color and shape. Metal salts make color: sodium burns yellow, strontium red, barium green, and copper blue. Sparklers, which accounted for nearly 80 percent of fireworks injuries to children under 5 in 2013, commonly contain iron, magnesium, aluminum and potassium.
This all adds up to metal powder, burning at temperatures near 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, near your home, in the air and even on your skin or your children’s skin. Exploding fireworks also release smoke and soot, polluting air during and right after fireworks shows. When inhaled, those tiny particles can cause coughing, shortness of breath and asthma attacks.
Forty-seven states and Washington, D.C. permit the use or sale of “consumer” fireworks, including sparklers, reloadable shells, roman candles and bottle rockets, which means they could be part of a celebration near you. (To learn what’s legal in your area, visit the American Pyrotechnics Association’s directory of state laws.)
Before planning July 4 fireworks, learn how to stay safe with these tips:
- Trust the professionals. The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to watch a public display put on by experts. Check your local paper to find a show near you.
- Supervise. Children are most vulnerable to fireworks injuries when unattended. If your kids won’t be with you on July 4, ask about their plans and, if they’re visiting friends, talk to the parents.
- Exercise caution. If you choose to set off fireworks, keep them in adult hands only. Maintain a safe distance, light only one at a time, and have a water source like a hose or bucket nearby. Never light or smoke cigarettes near fireworks.
- Consider air quality. Particulate matter from fireworks is worst during the nighttime fireworks and gets back to normal by morning, according to a study by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If you or someone in your family has sensitive lungs—particularly newborns, asthmatics and the elderly—stay upwind of big fireworks shows or watch from indoors.
- Check labels. Illegal fireworks are particularly hazardous. A legal device will be clearly labeled and include safety instructions.
- Remember pets. Keep animals safe and secure in a quiet, sheltered place. Pets may run away if frightened by an explosion, and they can experience burns or cuts. Pick up and discard all traces of fireworks so your pets don’t find and eat them.