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Have a Blast (Carefully) on the Fourth

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Ophthalmologist Louis Pizzarello, MD, tells WebMD he has seen more than his share of fireworks-related tragedies. Pizzarello, who is affiliated with Southampton and New York Presbyterian Hospitals, says the most common culprit for eye injuries are bottle rockets. "I have seen eyes damaged beyond repair, [leading to] removal of the eye."

Since 40% of all fireworks injuries happen to children, Clem says it's important to recognize that this means most injuries involve adults. "We think it's primarily a problem with kids, but it's not," she says.

She says that while adults have been programmed to turn over their car keys if they've had too much too drink, they may think they can still handle fireworks -- which are, in effect, explosives. "Because of the party atmosphere, they take risks and show more bravado than they normally would if they weren't under the influence," she says.

The National Council on Fireworks Safety, an organization that includes firework manufacturers, says that legal fireworks, used properly, are not the problem. They say that over the past 10 years, 30-33% of the injuries associated with fireworks have typically been caused by illegal explosives or homemade fireworks. The council also notes that Public Service Commission statistics show most injuries are minor, and that more often than not, the injuries involved misuse rather than a malfunction of the fireworks.

"All firework injuries are preventable," says Arthur Kellermann, MD, an emergency physician and a leading researcher in injury prevention,

The American College of Emergency Physicians and the Consumer Product Safety Commission provide the following safety tips:

  • Read the labels and follow all warnings and instructions. Most injuries occur due to improper use. If the device is not marked with the contents, warning label, and directions, it is most likely illegal or hazardous.
  • Check the amount of gunpowder on the contents. Fireworks must contain less than 50 mg of gunpowder, according to U.S. law. Any firework containing more than that (such as cherry bombs) may not be legally sold to the general public.
  • Protect your eyes. "Always wear safety goggles or unbreakable glasses while shooting fireworks," says Kellermann.
  • Stand in a safe place and make sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.
  • Never investigate why a firework didn't go off, or try to relight fireworks that haven't fully combusted.
  • Never allow children to play with fireworks.
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby in case of accident or fire.
  • Only light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from houses, dry leaves, and flammable materials.

Clem offers one final, fail-proof tip. "The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend an professional fireworks display," she says. "The effects are better and much safer."

 

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