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Beware of dud fireworks!

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly recently relaxed the fireworks laws. Now, 2018 will be the first time in nearly 80 years that residents can legally celebrate the Fourth of July holiday with a firework show at home.  

The change allows adults to purchase “Class C” consumer-grade fireworks, which includes favorites like firecrackers, Roman Candles and bottle rockets—fireworks that contain less than 50 milligrams of explosive material. 

“These law changes mean ‘bigger’ fireworks are now legal, which create new safety concerns,” said Ronald Strony, MD, an emergency medicine physician and co-chair of Emergency Medicine for Geisinger’s Medicine Institute. “There’s new potential for getting hurt while trying to celebrate Independence Day.”

In addition to relaxing requirements, the law also states that fireworks must be discharged more than 150 feet from any occupied structure, and—surprise!—not by any person under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.  

With this newfound firepower, it’s more important than ever to practice safety precautions while enjoying the show. 

The U.S. Fire Administration reports that approximately 75 percent of all fireworks-related injuries annually take place on or near the Fourth of July. The Consumer Products Safety Commission reported over 11,000 hospital visits in 2016. Most injuries were a result of mishandling the devices or attempting to launch an illegal, commercial-grade explosive. 

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, more than 69 percent of the injuries were burns on the hands, head, face, legs, eyes and arms, with children under the age of 15 accounting for 31 percent of the injuries. 

“It’s common for folks to come into the emergency room during the Fourth of July because of burns or foreign objects in the eyes,” said Dr. Strony. “But these sorts of accidents can be easily avoided with the proper precautions.”

If you’re hoping to keep the party at home and away from the hospital this year, here are some tips from the Consumer Products Safety Commission to enjoy fireworks safely.

Keep fireworks away from young children 
Even sparklers, a fun, family favorite, should be handled with care. The glittering sticks can reach up to 2,000 degrees, enough to light flammable clothing or cause severe burns. Only children over the age of ten should handle sparklers, and still under close supervision.

“When handling any sort of fireworks, parents should also try to keep a bucket of water nearby,” said Dr. Strony. “Sparklers stay hot even after the stick burns out, so they can burn hands or feet when left on the ground.”

Be careful when lighting, and let the duds lie
When lighting fireworks, never lean over the fuse or device. Instead, approach the firework from the side; this way you can light one at a time and back away quickly!

Never try to pick up or re-light a failed firework. There could be an issue with the device causing it to go off at any minute. 

“An unexpected launch could cause burns, and in some cases, an explosion could put extremities and limbs in danger,” said Dr. Strony. 

The best way to handle a dud firework is to spray it with a garden hose.

Be an educated consumer 
Pennsylvania has allotted a finite number of permits for approved fireworks sellers. You should avoid any seller that can’t produce this permit or has products you don’t recognize.

Fireworks in brown paper and without attractive, graphic packaging are often meant for commercial use and not legal for consumers. They also pack a considerable punch—leave those to the professionals. 


Ronald Strony, MD, is an emergency medicine physician and co-chair of Emergency Medicine for Geisinger’s Medicine Institute. He sees patients at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre and at Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre
Group of people holding up sparklers

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