Anyone 14 or older can purchase consumer fireworks in Missouri. Currently 45 states allow the use of some or all types of pyrotechnics permitted by federal regulations through the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Neighboring Illinois is an exception, where only wire or wood stick sparklers and other novelty items are allowed. Iowa legalized consumer fireworks usage this year.
According to U.S. Fireworks, a retail company that ships consumer grade pyrotechnics, Missourians are able to buy items such as bottle rockets, sky rockets, roman candles, firecrackers and sparklers.
Dr. Jeffrey Litt, who heads the Burn and Wound Program at the University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia, quoted injury data covering the last two Fourth of July holiday periods to Missourinet.
The hospital has treated burn patients ranging from less than a year old to people in their 70’s. Most of the patients are men between 17 and 30 years of age, who have fireworks related injuries to the hand.
Litt said, in one case, an errant bottle rocket struck a grandmother holding a baby.
“The bottle rocket was actually set off in a safe fashion, on the ground” said Litt. Right before it went off, it kind of started teetering and flew right at Grandma, who was holding a fairly new baby. They both got burned. Grandma actually needed surgery and some skin grafting.”
Fireworks killed 11 people in 2015 and injured 11,900 individuals across the United States according to CPSC figures. Litt thinks a lot of risk can be eliminated by following manufacturer’s recommendations, but says the potential for injury is always present.
“I know very little about the day to day workings of fireworks manufacturing. So I don’t know the quality control that goes into it, and how one regulates the amount of pyrotechnic flame-explosion. I don’t know how one standardizes that. My guess is that it’s not an exact science, which explains some of the inherent safety risk.”
According to the CPSC, 250 people on average go to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries in the month around the July 4th holiday. The federal agency says 70% of them are burn related, with hands and fingers being the most likely body parts to receive injury followed by heads, faces and ears.
Litt is particularly troubled by the widespread use of sparkler’s, some of which can reach temperatures approaching 1800 degrees.
“That is basically welding temperature” Litt said. “And these are the things that we give to kids that we think are so innocuous. And yet all a kid has to do is trip with it in his hand and have it land on his face, or near his eye, or play around a little bit and touch someone else with it, and it can cause an instantaneous third degree burn.”
Litt notes third degree burns almost always need surgery and a skin graft in order to heal. He thinks individuals are better off watching professional fireworks demonstrations than using consumer products.
“A, it’s by and large a better show. And B, a lot of that unpredictability has been worked out by folks who understand and can mitigate that unpredictability far more effectively than we can as amateurs.”
The Missouri Division of Fire Safety issues permits for special fireworks shows and oversees the selling of pyrotechnics. On average, it issues 1,350 permits a year to manufacturers, wholesalers, jobbers, distributors, and retailers of fireworks.
Both Dr. Litt and the CPSC suggest users of consumer fireworks have a bucket of water or a water hose close by in case of a fire or other mishap.