Homeland Security and Emergency Services


Consumer Alert

Fireworks Remain a Serious Health Hazard and Cause of Blindness


Background

In 1975, the American Academy of Ophthalmology officially recognized the dangers that fireworks posed to innocent persons, particularly children, and resolved to join other organizations (Prevent Blindness America, National Fire Protection Association, Fire Marshals Association of North America, and the American Academy of Pediatrics) to try to prevent fireworks injuries. Despite state legislation to control the sale and use of fireworks in 48 states and the District of Columbia, approximately 12,000 persons are treated each year in emergency departments because of fireworks-related injuries. Of these, an estimated 20% are eye injuries, mostly among children. Because these numbers do not include those individuals initially treated in ophthalmologists' offices, these estimates may underestimate the number of fireworks-related eye injuries nationally. Many of these injuries result in blindness.

To verify the size and extent of the problem, and identify potential mechanisms for reducing this terrible toll on children's vision, the American Academy of Ophthalmology organized a Fireworks Eye Injury Surveillance Project over the Fourth of July holiday, 1985. Ophthalmologists across the country were asked to report significant fireworks-related eye injuries to a centralized data bank coordinated by R. Sloan Wilson, MD, Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Arkansas. Reports of nearly 700 injuries were received by the Academy, representing the largest number of fireworks-related eye injuries reported nationwide on a single day.

Additional data collected and analyzed on serious eye injuries by the Eye Injury Registry of Alabama during a seven-year period demonstrated that:

  • Most eye injuries were caused by "bottle rockets";
  • The average age of those injured was 15 years old;
  • Nearly half resulted in legal blindness; and
  • One in ten required surgical removal of the eye.

Ongoing studies by the United States Eye injury Registry confirm the following critical points:

  1. Large numbers of serious eye injuries still occur every year from fireworks.
  2. More than three-quarters occur during the Fourth of July holiday.
  3. Three-quarters of all injuries are to males.
  4. Nearly half of those injured are bystanders.
  5. The single most dangerous type of fireworks is small bottle rockets.
  6. Bottle rocket injuries are reported from states which have abandoned their sale.

Implications

It is obvious that fireworks injuries require nationwide attention if large numbers of blinding injuries are to be prevented. Since state and local legislative controls may be inadequate, a short-term emergency strategy must rely on widespread media publicity, warning children and adults of all states of the dangers of fireworks, particularly from the use of bottle rockets, to participant and bystander alike. This strategy should be concentrated during high risk periods, such as during the Fourth of July holiday. A long-term strategy would aim to effect better control over the sale and private use of fireworks by strengthening and better implementing of existing legislation, and by extending legislation to those states presently without it. Efforts should be targeted at the most dangerous forms of fireworks, particularly bottle rockets.

Recommendations

  1. Adults and children should celebrate the Fourth of July by attending a professional fireworks display -- the safest way to enjoy fireworks.

     

  2. Legislators and the public must be educated on the dangers of bottle rockets and other fireworks, particularly during the Fourth of July holiday.

     

  3. Organizations such as Prevent Blindness America, National Fire Protection Association, Fire Marshals Association of North America, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other relevant local, state and national groups must be vigilant in promoting legislation to outlaw bottle rockets and restrict the use of less dangerous fireworks.

For further information, contact:

AMERICAN ACADEMY OF OPHTHALMOLOGY
P.O. Box 7424
San Francisco, CA 94120-7424
(415) 561-8500