I

t’s as predictable as taxes in April. Every year, the Fourth of July brings patriotic displays of color, smoke, and sound — and a slew of emergency room visits from burns and blast wounds.

Federal researchers track data on those injuries year-round using the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a national probability sample of about 100 hospitals in the U.S. and its territories. Fireworks injuries don’t only happen in July, but they are, unsurprisingly, far more common in that month versus the rest of the year.

Even when fireworks are sold legally, they are still prone to safety recalls. Just this week, 36,100 units of TNT Red, White & Blue smoke fireworks were recalled because the fireworks may explode unexpectedly.

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Fireworks law varies widely

Where fireworks laws do exist, they vary wildly from state to state, or even from county to county. In Massachusetts and New Jersey, it’s illegal to buy or sell fireworks at all. In Ohio, fireworks are available for purchase, but consumers have to sign a document stating they’ll take them out of the state within 48 hours.

Consumer fireworks laws in the U.S. by state

American Pyrotechnics Association
Source: American Pyrotechnics Association

Fun fact: Four states — Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Oklahoma — allow residents to legally purchase fireworks at age 12.

So who gets hurt?

Legal fireworks or not, children are much more likely than adults to get hurt — 12-year-olds sustain more fireworks injuries than any other age group.

Natalia Bronshtein/STAT Source: National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS)

But age isn’t the only factor playing into fireworks injuries: Men are more likely to be hurt than women.

Natalia Bronshtein/STAT Source: National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS)

So what about trends in the data? If you look at injury rates over the last two decades, you see that injuries to teenagers and children have dropped since 2005, but injuries among 20-40-year-olds are creeping up.

Natalia Bronshtein/STAT Source: National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS)

And what goes wrong most often? The most common type of injury is thermal burns. Sparklers are an unassuming culprit in the hands of any child.

Natalia Bronshtein/STAT Source: National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS)

The injuries span a wide range — from a 2-year-old boy who sustained a burn to his eye after his brother accidentally hit him with a sparkler to a 23-year-old who had a bottle rocket explode in his hands and needed a finger amputated.

Some of the data points are indirect injuries: One patient suffered bites after fireworks spooked a nearby dog. And a 10-year-old girl put two pieces of bathroom tissue in her ear to drown out the noise of fireworks. Each of the sparkles in the data visualization below tells its own story.

Here comes the yearly explosion in fireworks injuries

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Natalia Bronshtein/STAT Source: National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS)

Megan Thielking contributed reporting.

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  • My father lit the fireworks when my brothers and I were young. As we got older, he taught us the rules for safe handling.
    We were boys, obviously on occasion we broke the rules, Mom doctored our burns, cuts and scrapes,,, Dad would call us a dumbass, whack our reset button and explain why we got hurt.
    The Darwin Awards hadn’t been invented yet, and there was way less whining.
    I’ve tried to raise my daughter to find fun, exciting and challenging things to do. And once in a while “Dumb Ass” has been muttered under my breath.
    She can drive in the snow, walk a mean fashion runway and carry on a good conversation.
    But she had a deprived child hood, I didn’t get to teach her about fireworks.
    Some politician deprived me of the opportunity, the Dumb Ass.

  • i live in Wisc. and according to your U.S. chart we can only buy sparklers and only non residents can buy fireworks. that is completely wrong. i don`t know the age limit but any adult can buy any fireworks on sale in stands. and there are fireworks stands everywhere around the fourth.

  • “If you look at injury rates over the last two decades, you see that injuries to teenagers and children have dropped since 2005, but injuries among 20-40-year-olds are creeping up.”
    Well, of course they are – it’s the same idiots growing up.

  • Was there any interesting data on a month to month/weekly basis? I can’t make much use of that last chart but it looks cool

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