This One Kind of Firework Is Most Likely to Send You to the ER

The last place you want to end up on July 4th weekend is the hospital, especially amid COVID.

Fireworks are typically a huge part of celebrating July 4th weekend, with many people heading out to watch the sparks fly at their town or city's displays. However, health officials are urging people to celebrate the Fourth of July at home this year due to the surge of coronavirus cases in many parts of the country. And those that will be heeding that advice may decide to create firework spectacles in their own backyards. Of course, setting off fireworks safely is extremely important—especially since some people may be doing it for the first time and because hospitals are already overcrowded with COVID-19 patients in many U.S. hotspots. In fact, you should be particularly wary of one kind of firework that sends the most people to the ER year after year: sparklers.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) Fireworks Annual Report, which was released in June, estimates that there were 10,000 firework-related injuries treated in ERs nationwide during 2019. But 73 percent of those injuries occurred during the one-month period between June 21 and July 21, in which the Fourth of July falls. And sparklers were responsible for 12 percent of those ER visits, the highest number of any kind of firework. Firecrackers (of the small, large, illegal, and unspecified varieties) followed closely as the runner-up, responsible for 11 percent of firework-related ER visits. And rockets, both missiles and bottle, were behind 6 percent of ER firework injuries.

"Sparklers are often viewed as harmless but let's be clear, they can be deadly if not used properly. They are actually the most often cause of any injuries that we see firework-related," former CPSC chairman Ann Marie Buerkle said at the group's annual firework safety demonstration in 2018, ABC News reported.

Close-up of sparkler in children's hands

But why are sparklers so dangerous? According to the CPSC, sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees, which is hot enough to melt some metals. As Heather Trnka, the injury prevention supervisor at Akron Children's Hospital, told the Akron Beacon Journal, that's even hotter than a blowtorch.

One of the main issues is that parents give these fireworks to their children under the assumption that they're a safer kind of firework. However, 55 percent of those sparkler-related injuries in 2019 were attributed to children 4 years old or younger. "I don't know how many parents will hand their kids a blowtorch, but they will hand them a sparkler," Trnka said.

And this year presents a particular danger in that wearing a mask while lighting fireworks could do even more damage. As Donna Skoda, MS, RD, health commissioner of Summit County, Ohio, pointed out to Akron Beacon Journal: "You have a cloth that is flammable covering your face and you are swirling fire around your head."

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To help you and your family stay safe this Fourth of July, Ruta M. Pakalns, MD, of the Marshfield Clinic Wisconsin Rapids Center, says the National Fireworks Safety Council (NFSC) has a list of safety measures to practice when using sparklers:

  1. Light only one sparkler at a time.
  2. Don't hand a lighted sparkler to another person. Instead, hand over an unlit sparkler and then light it.
  3. Stand six feet away from others while using sparklers (which you should be doing due to COVID-19 anyway).
  4. Never throw a lit sparkler.
  5. Remain standing while using sparklers, hold them at arm's length, and never run while holding them.
  6. Don't hold a child in your arms while using sparklers.
  7. Wear closed-toe shoes to prevent foot burn.
  8. Drop spent sparklers in a bucket of water because they can remain hot long after the flame has gone out.

And for more safety for the upcoming holiday weekend, check out The CDC Director Has Issued This Warning About July 4th Weekend.

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