Watching fireworks is a traditional family activity all over the world and great fun. But setting off fireworks should never be a family activity and is anything but fun for the thousands of people injured each year. Moreover, all fireworks, professional-sponsored ones and the so-called backyard types, are associated with little known hazards that may especially effect young children.
There is no such thing as safe fireworks, say safety experts. Even ones considered to be safe – sparklers, for example – can reach temperatures above 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a misconception that when mishaps occur only handlers are the ones injured. Especially in the hands of amateurs, fireworks can explode unexpectedly or take erratic courses when launched, landing among bystanders, even those standing at considerable distances. And since fireworks attract families, many of the injured are children. The most common injuries among spectators are burns from falling segments. Burns may be sufficiently severe to require hospitalization. Eye injuries are also common. Don’t allow children to pick up segments of fireworks that land on the ground. The segment may still be ignited and explode or be in the form of hot embers.
When fireworks light up in the sky, they pollute the environment. They release tiny particles (suspended particulate matter) which when inhaled may damage lungs. The fumes contain sulfur dioxide, heavy metals including lead, and other toxic materials. The specific composition of a given firework depends on the desired effect. Individuals with respiratory problems and young children are especially at risk. The reason that fireworks are not considered a major health issue is that exposure to them tends to be limited.
Fireworks most often are set off near bodies of water, to allow many people to see them and for safety reasons. In the US, fireworks are responsible for tens of thousands of fires annually (rarely major fires involving loss of life). Moreover, fireworks pollute the body of water with the same chemicals as pollute the air.
Fireworks are primarily designed to produce a large amount of noise in the form of a sudden bang, sufficiently loud to damage hearing. The noise can also “spook” dogs, possibly damaging their hearing, and cause them to react inappropriately, injuring themselves or running away.
Safety experts suggest that you keep your family “way back” or “at a distance” from fireworks, though these terms are not defined. Most problems arise when people are too close to backyard fireworks. When possible, keep your family out of the way of the smoke emanating from fireworks.