Americans lighting up sparklers and enjoying their own backyard fireworks displays in conjunction with this year's Fourth of July national celebration may be relieved to know that even though the use of these products has increased dramatically over the past 35 years, they are the safest they've been since such information has been regularly tracked.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 1976 Americans used 29 million pounds of consumer fireworks and sustained 11,000 fireworks-related injuries, or 38.3 per 100,000 pounds used. In 2009, the CPSC reported that Americans used 213.9 pounds of consumer fireworks and sustained 8,800 fireworks-related injuries, for a total of 4.1 injuries per 1,000 pounds used.
William A. Weimer, vice president of consumer fireworks company Phantom Fireworks in Youngstown, Ohio, said one reason for the drop in injuries is because the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory (AFSL) in 1994 began testing fireworks at the factory level in China, where most of these products are produced, to ensure compliance with U.S. federal manufacturing and performance standards; any products that fail this testing may not be imported. He noted that despite an increase of more than 700 percent in the use of fireworks since 1976, injuries during that same period have dropped by 89 percent.
"The consumer fireworks industry is justifiably proud of the greatly improved and improving consumer fireworks safety record. We're committed to safety," Weimer said, adding that his company has produced a number of downloadable videos that show how to use consumer fireworks safely and has also conducted fireworks safety seminars throughout the country. He urged consumers to "be smart and follow the rules" when using these products.
"Most firework-related injuries are due to product misuse and abuse rather than product malfunction," Weimer said. "The first rule is to use common sense and think about what you're doing."
Matt Hazel and Becky Quick agreed. The two employees manning the Kneppy's Fireworks stand on the Million Dollar Highway in St. Marys said the first rule of order is to pay attention to the caution and use labels on the fireworks products. Quick said most labels specify how far away consumers should stand from a lit device in order to avoid burns or smoke inhalation. She also said that the designated igniter should never stand by a firework after it has been lit.
"Light it and get away," she said.
"Make sure you definitely have adult supervision and watch your hands," Hazel added.
He also recommended using a long-handled lighter for grills, candles and fireplaces to light off fireworks, rather than a conventional lighter or matches.
Weimer said audiences should be a minimum of 30 feet away from any ground-based product and 150 feet away from an aerial product. Above all, he said, fireworks should be handled and set off by a sober adult only.
"A sober adult should be in charge, just like you would have a designated driver," Weimer said.
A number of fire prevention and health agencies heavily discourage the use of consumer fireworks and recommend that Americans instead attend community or other fireworks displays set off by professionals. Area residents will have that option, with Independence Day celebrations and fireworks displays taking place at the St. Marys Golf Club on Saturday, July 2 and the Fox Township Community Park in Kersey on Sunday, July 3. Starfire Corp., based in Carroltown, is the provider for the fireworks set off annually for the Fourth of July celebration in St. Marys, and Vincent Terrizzi, director of operations, said the company is excited to feature some new pastel colors and exciting developments in their fireworks products this year, and said he felt area residents will enjoy this year's show.
"I think the spectators will be pleased," Terrizzi said.
"And of course, it will be loud, as it always is. That's our trademark."
For more information on fireworks safety and Pennsylvania laws regarding fireworks, visit the Pennsylvania State Police website at www.psp.state.pa.us  and click on “Frequently Asked Questions about Fireworks.”