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Brief Report: Injuries Associated with Homemade Fireworks --- Selected States, 1993--2004

Around the July 4 Independence Day holiday each year in the United States, injuries associated with homemade fireworks are increasingly common. During June--July 2002, approximately 5,700 persons were treated for fireworks-related injuries at U.S. emergency departments (1); approximately 300 (5.3%) were injured in incidents involving illegal and homemade fireworks. CDC and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommend that fireworks be handled only by professionals (2). To describe injuries and emergency responses resulting from homemade fireworks explosions, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) researched data from its Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) system. This report summarizes four incidents involving homemade fireworks explosions that were identified by the surveillance system. To prevent injuries and deaths, no one should attempt to make their own fireworks.

HSEES is an active, multistate surveillance system that tracks the release of hazardous substances during emergency events* reported by participating state health departments. ATSDR searched the HSEES database for reports of incidents involving homemade fireworks for all years for which data were available (1993--2004)§ from the 17 participating states. Because HSEES has no specific category for homemade fireworks incidents, certain incidents might not have been identified. Incidents involving bottle bombs, pipe bombs, smoke bombs, and other explosive devices were not included.

Case Reports

Iowa. In 2004, a man aged 52 years was making fireworks in the living room of his home when an explosion occurred. The explosion was believed to have been sparked by a metal spoon used to mix gunpowder, sulfur chlorate, and phosphorus in a metal can. The man died from his injuries. A hazardous materials (HazMat) team was called in to conduct decontamination and debris removal at the property.

New York. In 2001, a report of a loud explosion and white smoke brought the local fire department, HazMat team, and state police to a rural area south of a mobile home park. The explosion caused the release of ammonium nitrate, potassium nitrate, and other unidentified chemicals that were being used by the homeowner to manufacture fireworks on his property. No injuries were reported; however, the HazMat team conducted initial decontamination and debris removal at the property, and the owner was ordered to conduct soil sampling and remediate all areas of contaminated soil.

Utah. In 2002, a man aged 43 years was making fireworks by using ammonium nitrate and picric acid when an explosion occurred in his home. The man lost several fingers as a result of the blast. Forty-five residents of the area were evacuated for approximately 6 hours while local police and fire departments, along with the county health department and the state environmental protection agency, responded.

Washington. In 1993, a man aged 27 years and a youth aged 15 years died when chemicals being used to manufacture illegal fireworks exploded and fire destroyed their mobile home. The chemicals included barium nitrate, nitrocellulose, potassium nitrate, potassium perchlorate, strontium nitrate, and sulfur. State and federal agencies, along with a local HazMat team, decontaminated the property and removed debris.

Although certain types of fireworks are legal in some states, all fireworks are potentially dangerous because of their composition and unpredictability. Homemade fireworks can pose a particular risk for injury because of the lack of knowledge and experience of persons preparing these materials. CDC and CPSC recommend that fireworks be manufactured and handled only by professionals. Additional information regarding the hazards posed by fireworks and state and federal regulations that govern their use is available at CPSC at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/012.pdf and CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/spotlite/firework_spot.htm.

Reported by: D Cooper, Iowa Dept of Public Health. R Wilburn, MPH, J Ehrlich, MPH, WL Welles, PhD, New York State Dept of Health. S Stemmons, Utah Dept of Health. L Gunnells, Washington State Dept of Health. DK Horton, MSPH, WE Kaye, PhD, Div of Health Studies, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

References

  1. Greene MA, Joholske J. 2002 fireworks annual report: fireworks-related deaths, emergency department treated injuries, and enforcement activities during 2002. Washington, DC: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2003.
    Available at http://www.cpsc.gov/library/2002fwreport.pdf.
  2. CDC. Injuries from fireworks in the United States. MMWR 2000;49:545.
  3. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Hazardous substances emergency events surveillance system biennial report, 1999--2000. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2001. Available at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HS/HSEES.

* An HSEES event is the release or threatened release of a hazardous substance(s) into the environment in an amount that requires (or would have required) removal, clean-up, or neutralization according to federal, state, or local law (3). A hazardous substance is one that can reasonably be expected to cause an adverse health effect.

During 1993--2004, a total of 17 state health departments participated in HSEES. State health departments in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin participated during the entire period. Eight state health departments participated during portions of this period: Louisiana (2001--2004), Minnesota (1995--2004), Mississippi (1995--2004), Missouri (1994--2004), New Hampshire (1993--1996), New Jersey (2000--2004), Rhode Island (1993--2001), and Utah (2000--2004).

§ Data for 2003 and 2004 are preliminary.

Use of trade names and commercial sources is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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