This One Thing + Hand Sanitizer = "Recipe for Disaster," Experts Warn
Ahead of July 4th, medical and safety experts warn of the dangers that come from sanitizer and fireworks.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, you've likely heard time and time again that it's pivotal your hand sanitizer contain at a certain level of alcohol. If you need a reminder, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says your hand sanitizer should have at least 60 percent ethanol (often labeled as ethyl alcohol) or 70 percent isopropanol in order to effectively kill the coronavirus. But, ahead of Fourth of July weekend, safety experts and medical professionals are warning that that very essential ingredient may lead to a seriously dangerous situation if you combine it with one particular Independence Day staple: fireworks.
"Alcohol and fire do not mix," Maureen Vogel of the National Safety Council (NSC) told CNN. "You shouldn't pair flammable items; it's the proverbial recipe for disaster." So, if you're doing your due diligence of keeping your hands disinfected and you want to set off celebratory fireworks, you could be putting yourself in danger. That's why Vogel recommends that you "keep hand sanitizer away from the fireworks area."
Dhaval Bhavsar, MD, medical director of the University of Kansas Medical System's Burnett Burn Center, issued a similar warning to a local NBC News affiliate ahead of the holiday weekend. "If they have hand sanitizer on and … [are] lighting the fireworks, I think they could have a high risk of having a burn injury," he said. "It can be a third degree burn because alcohol is potent and flammable."
Dee Shelton, a fire and life safety educator with the Greensboro Fire Department in North Carolina, posted a video demonstration to show "just how flammable" hand sanitizer is. In the video (which you can watch below), Shelton explains that the alcohol in hand sanitizer burns "clean, so it has the blue flame instead of the orange flame," which means "you may not even know that it's on fire."
So, what can you do to stay safe from both COVID and burns during this unique July 4th weekend? "If you use alcohol-based sanitizer, wait at least five minutes and make sure you rub your hands clean and there is no residue of alcohol" before using fireworks, Bhavsar says.
Fireworks, of course, present their own set of dangers—hand sanitizer aside. 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. Seventy-three percent of those injuries occurred around Fourth of July weekend, and sparklers were responsible for more of those ER visits than any other kind of firework.
And therein lies another issue that makes COVID and July 4th a risky combination. As Donna Skoda, MS, RD, a health commissioner in Ohio, recently pointed out to Akron Beacon Journal: "You have a cloth that is flammable covering your face and you are swirling fire around your head." You do the math. And for more behavior to avoid this holiday weekend, check out This Is the Worst Place You Can Go July 4th Weekend, Doctor Says.