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See How Fireworks Injuries Skyrocket On July 4th

The Fourth of July always brings a slew of patients with fireworks injuries into ERs across the country. But it's not solely an Independence Day phenomenon. Federal researchers track data on those injuries year-round.
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Sample fireworks display on the Pooram eve.
Sample fireworks display on the Pooram eve.

By Natalie Bronshtein and Megan Thielking

The Fourth of July always brings a slew of patients with fireworks injuries into ERs across the country. But it's not solely an Independence Day phenomenon. Federal researchers track data on those injuries year-round.

Children are much more likely than adults to get hurt -- 12-year-olds sustain more fireworks injuries than any other age group.

"Presumably they're getting their fireworks from their parents," said Joseph Canner, a Johns Hopkins researcher who has studied fireworks injuries. "That's very disconcerting."

Four states allow residents to legally purchase fireworks at age 12: Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.

Fireworks laws aren't standardized nationally. In Massachusetts and New Jersey, it's illegal to buy or sell fireworks at all. In Ohio, fireworks are available for purchase, but consumers have to sign a document stating they'll take them out of the state within 48 hours.

The data isn't detailed enough to determine how, exactly, those laws affect injury rates. "But there seems to be sort of a trend toward areas of the country where laws are more relaxed to have higher rates of injuries," Canner said.

Age isn't the only factor playing into fireworks injuries: Men are more likely to be hurt than women.

"Even if they're 21 years old, if they don't take responsibility for using the fireworks correctly, or if they're under the influence and not using correctly, they can get hurt," said Ralph Apel, spokesperson for the National Council on Fireworks Safety.

The most common type of injury: thermal burns. Sparklers, while easy for kids to use and play with, can be particularly dangerous.

"Sparklers are a pretty simple device, but they burn hot," said Apel.

The injuries span a wide range -- ranging from a 2-year-old boy who sustained a burn to his eye after his brother accidentally hit him with a sparkler to a 23-year-old who had a bottle rocket explode in his hands and needed a finger amputated.

Some of the data points are indirect injuries; one patient suffered bites after fireworks spooked a nearby dog.

Apel said he urges anyone using fireworks to read labels carefully so "they know what the firework is gonna do before they start."

Experts also recommend that people lighting fireworks that shoot out or up immediately step away after lighting them. Depending on how long the fuse is, you have between three and 12 seconds to make it a safe distance away, Apel said.

"If you bend down on your haunches, light a fuse, get up, and walk away," Apel noted, "in three seconds you can be quite a ways away."