Report Reveals Which Fireworks Are the Most Dangerous

A new U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report highlights the need to take firework safety seriously as injuries associated with these products are increasing. The Commission also revealed which fireworks pose the highest risk.

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA), in 2023, consumers purchased 246.5 million pounds of fireworks to ignite at home for the July 4th celebrations. Revenues from fireworks sales this year are expected to exceed $2.4 billion.

Lighting fireworks can be thrilling, but playing with fire doesn't come risk-free. Fireworks lead to injury and even death if a person is not careful. That's why the APA urges consumers to use caution when using commercial products and avoid professional fireworks, as these products are best left to trained and certified experts.

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While most people will stick to a typical backyard fireworks show, like sparklers, experts warn that even these products can be dangerous.

In fact, recent data shows that firework-related injuries are increasing every year. So, how can a person ensure that their Independence Day celebration is safe?

Data from a recent U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) 2023 firework injury report shows that firework-related injuries have steadily increased since 2008 and peaked in 2020. This 2020 spike in injuries was likely due to increased backyard firework use after many locations canceled public shows because of the pandemic.

Although the number of injuries has fallen slightly since 2020, the CPSC estimates that between 2008 and 2023, fireworks injuries trended upward by 561 per year.

According to the report, 9,700 people were injured, and eight died from firework use in 2023. Five of the eight deaths were from firework misuse, two were associated with firework malfunction, and in one case, the circumstances surrounding the death are unknown.

In most cases, the individuals died from blunt force trauma due to a firework explosion. Mortar-style, commercial-grade, and illegal aerial fireworks were the primary types associated with the fatalities.

Which fireworks are most dangerous?

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Most people know that fireworks used by professionals and those that shoot into the air can be dangerous. However, other more commonly used products also pose a risk.

For example, the CPSC report shows that 800 firecracker and 700 sparkler-related visits to the emergency room occurred in 2023.

Rockets, including bottle rockets, were associated with 500 ER visits, followed by multiple tube and reloadable fireworks with 400 injuries each. Roman candles were implicated in 300 emergency room visits, and novelty products were linked to 200 injuries.

However, many injuries during the 2023 study period were associated with unknown firework devices.

The highest incidence of injury occurred in 25- to 44-year-olds (31%), followed by 15- to 24-year-olds (28%) and children ages five to 14 (23%). For children under five years of age, sparklers accounted for 51% of the total estimated injuries for that specific age group.

In addition, 67% of firework-related injuries occurred in males and 33% in females.

Most injuries occurred on the hand or fingers, followed by the head, face, ear, and eyes, primarily from burns.

CPSC investigators interviewed people involved in 18 firework injury cases and found that 67% of the incidents involved the firework malfunctioning, 33% were related to firework misuse, and 22% occurred because the firework tipped over.

In addition, the CPSC tested consumer fireworks and found that 18% percent of the products contained non-compliant components. The violations included fuse violations, the presence of prohibited chemicals, burnout or blowout, and pyrotechnic materials overload.

"While it is a great American tradition to enjoy fireworks around the 4th of July, it is important to remember that all fireworks, even sparklers, pose dangers to consumers. The safest way to view fireworks is to watch professional displays," said CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric in a new release. "If you choose to light your own, make sure you only buy legal fireworks intended for consumer use from a reputable retailer."

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The impact of fireworks on air quality

In addition to a spectacular display of lights and sound, fireworks can produce a significant amount of smoke and fumes, which can contribute to air pollution and trigger respiratory conditions like asthma. These emissions contain several pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5), water-soluble ions, and metals.

A 2015 study investigating particulate matter concentrations around July 4 found that locations close to commercial fireworks launch sites experience a 370% increase in PM2.5. This particulate matter is 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller and can be inhaled deep into the lungs.

Exposure to PM is associated with a range of adverse health effects, primarily affecting the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Researchers have also linked high PM2.5 to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Moreover, at 315 air quality monitoring sites across the United States, the researchers found elevated PM2.5 concentrations on the evening of July 4 and the morning of July 5, with the most significant increases between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on July 4.

In addition, a study conducted in the Netherlands in 2019 found that PM10 concentrations increased by 855% during a fireworks show. PM10 is 10 microns in diameter or less and can be inhaled into the lungs, resulting in inflammation and tissue damage.

Firework safety 101

To prevent injuries from fireworks, the CPSC says people should only buy legal fireworks labeled for consumer use.

Additional safety measures include:

  • Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks, including sparklers
  • Refrain from using alcohol or drugs when using fireworks
  • Always have a bucket or source of water ready in case an incident occurs
  • Only light one firework at a time and move away quickly
  • Avoid hovering over or allowing a body part to linger over a firework when lighting it
  • If a firework malfunctions or fails to ignite, soak it with water and do not try to relight or handle it
  • Do not point a firework at oneself or others
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Moreover, spent fireworks can cause a fire in a garbage can or refuse container. So, it's best to soak the used product in water before disposal.

To protect lungs from air pollution related to firework smoke and fumes, individuals can stay indoors with the doors and windows shut during high firework activity. In addition, wearing an N95 respirator or close-fitting mask can help reduce exposure to firework-related air pollution.

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