CHICAGO – Backyard use of fireworks and related injuries are increasing nationwide, according to industry and government data, and researchers say thousands of children each year are among the victims.
From 1990 to 2003, roughly 85,800 U.S. children under age 19 were treated in emergency rooms for burns and other injuries from firecrackers, bottle rockets and even sparklers, according to a study prepared for release Monday in July's issue of the journal Pediatrics. Most injuries occurred around the Fourth of July.
The study is an analysis of data on nonfatal injuries from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which last week released new figures showing an estimated 10,800 children and adults were treated for fireworks injuries last year. That was up from 9,600 in 2004 and part of a steady increase in fireworks-related injuries since 1996, the commission said.
Fireworks-related injuries killed 36 people between 2000 and 2005. Two teens were among the four reported deaths last year, the commission said.
Injuries to those under age 20 accounted for 55 percent of last year's figures, and 13-year-old Kelsey Carpenter of Pleasant City, Ohio, was among them.
Carpenter, now 14, was lighting a handful of sparklers for a group of younger children when the first one ignited the others, "and they all went off at once," she recalled.
"I looked down and my hand was on fire," she said. The result was third-degree burns requiring two days in the hospital and several months of therapy. Her left hand bears permanent scars.
"The emergency room doctor told me that it was like holding welding rods," said her mother, Paula Carpenter.
The Carpenters said they'd always thought sparklers were pretty safe. That's a common misconception, said researcher Gary Smith, an emergency room doctor at Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, who was involved in the Pediatrics study.
While firecrackers cause the most injuries, sparklers accounted for almost half of last year's injuries to children younger than 5. Aerial devices, including bottle rockets, caused about 17 percent of the injuries last year and in Smith's study.
Sparklers can quickly ignite clothing and cause severe burns, said Smith, director of Columbus Children's injury research center. Bottle rockets are dangerous because they're so unpredictable; "the moment you light them they're out of control," he said.
About 22 percent of children injured in his study were bystanders not directly handling fireworks; 60 percent of injuries were burns; and eyes, faces and hands were the most commonly injured body parts.
Julie Heckman of the American Pyrotechnics Association, a fireworks industry trade group, said backyard fireworks are safe when handled appropriately and with proper parental supervision. Most injuries occur when fireworks are misused, including when parents let young children handle sparklers, which she said was "totally inappropriate."
Heckman said the use of backyard fireworks has doubled since 2000, rising to 255 million pounds nationwide last year.
"Even though the majority of fireworks are produced in China, they must conform to U.S. government safety standards or they cannot be imported and sold here," she said.
But Smith argued that his results support an American Academy of Pediatrics policy favoring a ban on backyard fireworks. Only five states have a ban — Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.
"What I tell parents is, you'd much rather spend the Fourth of July at a public display run by professionals," he said.