WASHINGTON – With an ear-popping boom,the M-80 took off the hand of a mannequin Wednesday in a pre-Fourth of July demonstration of the potentially destructive power of fireworks.
Federal officials also showed how quickly a sparkler can set clothing on fire as they encouraged Americans to include fireworks safety in their Independence Day celebrations.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released a report stating that fireworks-related injuries sent 9,300 people to the emergency room in 2003. This number has decreased during the past 10 years,as an average of 12,500 injuries were reported from 1992 to 1994.
In addition,six fireworks-related deaths were reported in 2003,with two of these deaths caused by fires. Hal Stratton,CPSC chairman,said these deaths could have been avoided if consumers had practiced proper fireworks safety and kept a bucket of water handy.
Stratton presented a list of safety tips: avoid relighting duds and prevent children from playing with fireworks. He also said people should find out what fireworks are legal where they live.
In 2002,40 percent of the estimated 8,800 fireworks-related injuries were due to illegal fireworks,said Lewis Raden,assistant director for enforcement programs with the Bureau of Alcohol,Tobacco,Firearms and Explosives.
“Because they meet neither safety nor quality standards,they are extremely dangerous,” Raden said.
Raden said illegal fireworks are often sold from the same roadside stands as legal fireworks.
“As a consumer,you should question and be aware of what you're buying,” Raden said.
Peter Keisler,assistant attorney general for the civil division at the Justice Department,said the department strives to keep Americans safe by taking legal action against those who sell and manufacture illegal fireworks.
Dennis McKenzie,director of seizures and penalties for Customs and Border Patrol at the Department of Homeland Security,said although the patrol's responsibility after Sept. 11,2001,is defending U.S. ports and borders from terrorism,it also watches for illegal materials.
“We are still responsible for and actively engaged in keeping a wide variety of products from the American marketplace,” McKenzie said.
Since 1998,CSPC and Customs have seized more than 450 million illegal fireworks.
Although the officials gathered in West Potomac Park placed heavy emphasis on avoiding illegal fireworks,they warned that legal fireworks can be dangerous as well.
“There's a tendency to treat sparklers as if they're not dangerous,” Stratton said.
The report said sparklers accounted for more than half of the injuries to children under age 5,and sparklers were the third highest type of injury-causing fireworks,after firecrackers and bottle rockets.
“Even though they're legal,and we give them to small kids,they need to be supervised,” Stratton said.
McKenzie recommended that people rely on professionals for their fireworks-viewing enjoyment.
“Please leave the rockets' red glare,the bombs bursting in air to the professionals,” McKenzie said.
By leaving fireworks displays to professionals,people have almost no chance of being injured. According to the CPSC report,only about 100 injuries occurred at public fireworks displays.
Some health and safety groups will hold a news conference here Thursday to advocate a ban on consumer fireworks.
The American College of Emergency Physicians,the International Association of Fire Chiefs,the National Fire Protection Association and seven other groups will argue that the average consumer's interaction with fireworks should be limited to public displays.
They cite a 2002 statistic that eight out of nine emergency room fireworks injuries involved legal fireworks.
“It's clear that fireworks really are dangerous and should be left to the use of professionals,” said Ken Fields of Fleishman-Hillard,a public relations firm representing the National Fire Protection Association.
Seven states ban the use of consumer fireworks.