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The arrest of former NBA Wizards team member Gilbert Arenas for possession of illegal fireworks brings to mind the threat we face this time each year. In 2002, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that fireworks accounted for about 9000 injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms. The most common injuries were to the eyes, hands, head, and face. The most inflictions were suffered by bystanders rather than the activators of the fireworks themselves. Injuries caused by fireworks, rockets, and sparklers are the most common.
After a comparatively dry winter season, what makes this Fourth of July holiday potentially more dangerous is the fact that southwestern states like California, Arizona, and Nevada are now experiencing record high temperatures (127 degrees in Death Valley) which makes for some pretty dry grass and foliage. With an abundance of fireworks in the hands of young unsupervised pranksters, and other irresponsible citizens we have a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately the fireworks are not limited to just one day, but may continue on for days after until the supply is gone.
In California alone during the period from 1992 to 2001, fire damage caused by illegal fireworks averaged 2.2 million dollars per year (although there was a noticeably significant decrease in the years 2000 and 2001).
In 2011 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released some highlights of the 2010 fireworks-related incidents as follows:
• CPSC staff received reports of three fireworks-related deaths during 2010. In the first incident, a 22-year-old male died after he fell from a cliff when he detonated unspecified fireworks. In the second incident, a 49-year-old male perished when the fireworks he made illegally in his garage exploded. In the third incident, a 55- year-old male died in a house explosion caused by teenagers’ mischievous use of Roman candles. CPSC staff has reports of two fireworks-related deaths in 2009. Reporting is not complete for either year, and the actual number of deaths may be higher.
• Fireworks were involved in an estimated 8,600 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments during calendar year 2010 (95 percent confidence interval 6,600–10,700). CPSC staff estimated that there were 8,800 fireworks-related injuries during 2009. The difference is not statistically significant.
• There is not a statistically significant trend in estimated emergency department- treated injuries from 1996, when estimated injuries were the lowest (7,300), to 2010.
• An estimated 6,300 fireworks-related injuries (or 73 percent of the total fireworks-related injuries) were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments during the 1-month special study period between June 18, 2010 and July 18, 2010 (95 percent confidence interval 4,500–8,100). CPSC staff estimated that there were 5,900 fireworks-related injuries during the 2009 special study period.
• Of the fireworks-related injuries sustained, 65 percent were to males, and 35 percent were to females.
In 2011 the Los Angeles Times reported: [A 12-year-old girl from South Los Angeles has lost sight in her right eye and may lose the eye following an accident involving the use of illegal fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Erika Rodriguez "suffered a very severe injury to her right eye from a direct hit by an exploding firework that resulted in severe trauma," said Thomas Lee, an eye surgeon at the Vision Center of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
"The firework actually went straight into the eye," Lee said. "I've never seen a case like this before. The target zone this had to hit is less than half a centimeter."]
Fireworks – said to be invented by the Chinese some 2000 years ago – were used at the start of a new year to scare away evil spirits. Why it has become such a fixture in America for the Fourth of July is beyond me when there are so many people who don’t even know the history or meaning of Independence Day. To them it’s just another day for a risky thrill!
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of ‘Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand’ (Amazon.com) www.larrybuford.com