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