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Fireworks: Patriotic Tradition or Danger to Americans? - 2004-07-05


Fireworks are a big part of Fourth of July celebrations in the United States, as hundreds of thousands of Americans enjoyed public pyrotechnic displays across the country Sunday night to celebrate the U.S. birthday. The holiday throws the spotlight on another annual campaign, an effort to completely ban consumer fireworks in the United States.

As Americans around the country watched July Fourth fireworks celebrations, debate has been simmering about whether individuals should be allowed to buy fireworks to celebrate privately.

Seven U.S. states prohibit sales of all consumer fireworks. A coalition of groups, led by James Shannon, president of the non-profit fire safety group, the National Fire Protection Association, says that ban should be extended to include the entire United States.

"Those (fireworks) are inherently dangerous products," he said. "There might be another problem with some of them being designed defectively, so that they are particularly dangerous. But even when they're designed to do what they're supposed to do and do it, they can be very, very dangerous products."

Other members of the coalition include the International Fire Chiefs Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has focused on the dangers fireworks pose to children.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent federal regulatory agency, says fireworks-related accidents in the United States in 2002 killed four people and injured about 8,800 others in the United States. About half of the people injured were children, a fact pointed to by Mr. Shannon.

"I don't think serious injury is as American as apple pie, if it's avoidable. And particularly, if we're talking about children, thousands and thousands of children," he said.

But fireworks have strong defenders, such as the American Pyrotechnic Association, which says that they are becoming more and more popular in the United States. Officials with the association say that fireworks use in the United States has more than tripled since 1990, to nearly 100-kilograms in 2003.

And Ann Crampton, spokeswoman for the National Council on Fireworks Safety, says fireworks are a big part of Fouth of July celebration and their use should not be banned. But Ms. Cramption also says people should exerise care when using them.

"We know that millions of people are going to be celebrating with fireworks on the Fourth of July," she said. "It's become part of a symbol of this country. Many thousands of people, millions of people, enjoy going to public displays. But there are also people that like to be hands-on and do it themselves in their backyards. We feel they can be safe and they can be injury-free if they choose the right product, know what to choose, what to stay away from."

Most of the fireworks sold in the United States come from China. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Chinese fireworks imports to the United States in 2003 amounted to more than $157-million. Ms. Crampton says the U.S. pyrotechnics industry has been working with Chinese manufacturers to make fireworks safer.

"And about 15 years ago, a group was formed, called the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory, to work with Chinese manufacturers, to make sure that the product that they were making meets the safety standards that are required here," she said.

The National Fire Protection Association has been lobbying against consumer fireworks sales since 1910. Their efforts are not going to be made any easier by Consumer Product Safety Commission statistics showing that the number of fireworks-related deaths and injuries in the United States has actually fallen in recent years.