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Have a Blast (Carefully) on the Fourth

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The American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the National Association of State Fire Marshals have gathered the following facts:

  • Nineteen people died in the first 10 months of 1999 from fireworks-related injuries.
  • More than 6,000 such injuries occurred between June 23 and July 23 of last year. Some 30% of these injuries were to hands, wrists, or arms, and 20% were to the eyes. Many of those injured were bystanders.
  • Ten percent of children injured by fireworks suffer permanent damage, such as loss of an eye, finger, or hand.
  • Bottle rockets account for two-thirds of all fireworks-related injuries and over half of fireworks-related eye injuries.
  • Sparklers, often given to young children, can burn at up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and cause serious eye injuries.

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.

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