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High use of backyard fireworks predicted, prompting fears of heightened fireworks-related injuries

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 7/2/2020 By Robert Higgs, cleveland.com
fireworks in the night sky: With many municipal July 4 pyrotechnics canceled or postponed by the coronavirus pandemic, use of backyard fireworks is expected to be sky high this holiday weekend. © Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com/TNS With many municipal July 4 pyrotechnics canceled or postponed by the coronavirus pandemic, use of backyard fireworks is expected to be sky high this holiday weekend.

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Use of backyard fireworks is expected to be sky high this holiday weekend, when many municipal pyrotechnics have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The American Pyrotechnics Association predicts record levels of consumer fireworks sales, and Greater Cleveland’s three largest hospital systems fear that will translate into more fireworks-related injuries.

“We do anticipate an increased number of burn injuries related to the increase in home use of fireworks this year,” Andrew Neading, program coordinator at MetroHealth’s Burn Center, told cleveland.com on Thursday via email.

MetroHealth, treats about half a dozen people for burns and blast injuries related to firework use every year, with many of those injuries occurring around Independence Day, which this year falls on Saturday but has many workers off on Friday.

Ohio law only allows for use of wooden and wire stick sparklers and novelty fireworks at home, but use of illegal fireworks is likely to be up, said Jennifer Walker, manager of University Hospitals’ Rainbow Injury Prevention Center.

“I definitely think that more people will be using fireworks at home due to the lack of professional displays this year, which will likely result in more injuries, or at least the potential for more injuries,” Walker said in an email.

Even sparklers, which can be legally used at home, present great hazard for burns, said Dr. Baruch Fertel, an emergency department physician at the Cleveland Clinic.

“People think sparklers are benign and they can give them to a 4-year-old,” Fertel said in an interview. But they burn at temperatures of 1,200 degrees and higher – more than five times the temperature of boiling water.

“I’d love to say people should leave the fireworks to the professionals,” Fertel said. “Pyrotechnics is a profession. They know safety.”

But people will participate, and Fertel said three things are important to keep in mind:

Fireworks are for adults only.

No alcohol. Any impairment creates more danger.

If something misfires, don’t pick it up or try to relight it.

State law prohibits use of "consumer" fireworks that include items such as firecrackers and bottle rockets, although they can be legally purchased in Ohio by adults if they be taken out of state within 48 hours.

That requirement is often disregarded, though, and one reason why state legislators have proposed making use of consumer fireworks legal. Gov. Mike DeWine has said he’s not keen on the idea, citing the injury potential, particularly for children.

According to the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission, about 180 people go to emergency rooms each day on average in the month around Independence Day.

In 2019, emergency departments in hospitals across the country treated about 10,000 fireworks-related injuries, the Products Safety Commission reported. More than 70% of those injuries were between June 21 and July 21.

Sparklers were associated with about 900 injuries. Another 400 were linked to bottle rockets. About 800 injuries were caused by firecrackers.

Two-thirds of the injuries involved males. Children under 15 years old accounted for 36% of all injuries.

More than 60% of fireworks-related injuries were to hands, head and eyes.

The National Fire Prevention Association says the only safe fireworks for consumers are those they watch at a public display. It recommends against any use at home, and suggests alternatives such as glow sticks, noise makers and patriotic-colored aerosol string for Independence Day celebrations.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says young children should not ignite fireworks and adult supervision is crucial for all activities, even sparklers. The commission, too, has a long list of safety tips.

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