Question of the Week
June 28, 2004


Sunday is the Fourth of July.

"As July 4 approaches, you're probably thinking about sitting out on the lawn with your family and neighbors, eating snacks, and watching beautiful fireworks bursting in the night sky. July 4 celebrations can be a lot of fun, but you also need to be mindful of your safety.... Even sparklers can be dangerous; they are the second highest cause of fireworks related injuries requiring trips to the hospital. Sparklers can heat up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. That's hot enough to melt gold!"

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reminds us that:
"Although legal consumer fireworks that comply with the CPSC regulations can be relatively safe, all fireworks are hazardous and can cause injury. Fireworks are classified as hazardous substances under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. Some fireworks such as illegal firecracker type devices (M-80's, quarter sticks) and professional display fireworks should never be used or handled by consumers or children due to serious injuries and death that can and do occur from such use or handling...."

Some injuries occur when products are used as directed but do not work as expected:

"A 6-inch fountain that shot colored fireballs injured a 4-year-old girl. When the fountain tipped over, the victim was struck in the chest by a fireball. She sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns to her chest and neck. She was hospitalized for three weeks for burn treatment and skingrafts."

Some injuries occur when products are altered and used in ways their creators never intended:

"A 15-year-old male tied together the wires of 10 sparklers. The sparklers ignited quickly and burned down very fast, finally exploding in his hand. The victim sustained a five-inch long laceration to his hand and forearm exposing muscle. Also, debris from the explosion lodged in his hand and arm. The victim had plastic surgery and has recovered."

Whatever the cause, "In 2002, emergency departments treated

* 8,800 people for fireworks-related injuries in the United States, and 4 people died from their injuries. 
* About half of these injuries occurred among children ages 14 years and younger. 
* Males sustained about 75% of all injuries. 
* Hands and fingers (32%), eyes (21%), and head and face (17%) were the parts of the body most frequently injured.
* More than half of the injuries involved burns (66%). 
* Injuries were most commonly associated with sparklers (26%), fire-crackers (18%), and rockets (15%)."

"More than half of the injuries involved burns (66%)."

"Fire. Whether it‚s a tiny flame flickering on the end of a birthday cake candle, or a wall of flame 200 feet tall and a mile wide roaring through a forest, all fire is essentially the same. In simplest terms, fire is a chemical reaction....Fuel, heat and oxygen are all needed in the right combination to produce fire."

Fireworks produce the heat, and the oxygen fills the air around us. If the heat and flame are contained and are not allowed to come into contact with any other fuel, then all goes well. It is when the flame is not contained that problems can occur.

"How fast cloth burns depends on what it is made of, how much air is available during burning, and how hot the fire is while it is burning....
This information was taken from The Weaver's Companion, Interweave Press, 2001.
"Wool: Burns slowly in an open flame, and self-extinguishes when removed from the flame. Has a characteristic 'burning hair' odor and produces an irregular dark ash....
"Linen: Burns quickly in an open flame, and continues to glow when removed from the flame. Smells like burning grass and produces a gray, feathery-smooth edge.
"Cotton: Burns quickly in an open flame, and continues to glow when removed from the flame. Smells like burning paper and produces a gray, feathery-smooth edge....
"Nylon: Burns slowly and melts in an open flame, and self-extinguishes when removed from the flame. Produces a hard, gray bead....
"Polyester: Burns slowly and melts in an open flame, and self-extinguishes when removed from the flame. Produces a hard, black bead."
(This is just a selection. More cloth types are included on the site.)

As clothes can burn, so can the people inside them.

"Burns are characterized by degree, based on the severity of the tissue damage. A first-degree burn causes redness and swelling in the outermost layers of skin (epidermis). A second-degree burn involves redness, swelling and blistering, and the damage may extend beneath the epidermis to deeper layers of skin (dermis). A third-degree burn, also called a full-thickness burn, destroys the entire depth of skin, causing significant scarring. Damage also may extend to the underlying fat, muscle, or bone....Burns may be caused by even a brief encounter with heat greater than 120°F (49°C)."

"Burns may be caused by even a brief encounter with heat greater than 120°F (49°C)."
"Sparklers can heat up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit."

To put these numbers in perspective, temperatures need to reach "about 617 degrees F, 325 degrees C for wood to burn..."

Yes, there are risks, but what's the Fourth of July without fireworks? If fireworks are illegal where you live, or if you just don't want to deal with doing it yourself, there are often professionally done public shows put on by cities, parks, or local organizations.

"If fireworks are legal where you live and you decide to set them off on your own, be sure to follow these important safety tips:
*Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks
*Read and follow all warnings and instructions
*Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.
*Only light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from the house, dry leaves, and flammable materials.
*Never try to relight fireworks that have not fully functioned.
*Keep a bucket of water in case of a malfunction or fire."

Following these guidelines will certainly reduce the chance of injury, but nothing is a 100% guarantee. If something does go wrong, what would you do (and what should you not do)?

"After your child has been removed from the source of the burn, if he has a minor burn, you should soak it in cold water for about fifteen minutes, by placing it under running tap water or by covering the area with a cold, wet towel. You should not put ice, butter, or any ointments on the burn and do not break any blisters that have formed. If possible, remove burned clothing or cut it away. Next place a sterile dressing over the burned area and call your doctor for further instructions, especially for second or three degree burns, which should almost always be seen by a health professional."

Questions of the Week:
How can you safely enjoy this Fourth of July holiday? What do you need to know (and what should you have with you) when setting off fireworks yourself? If there is an accident, what would you do? How can you know when an injury can be treated at home versus when it should be seen by a medical professional?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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