Emergency rooms saw a record number of fireworks injuries in the pandemic year of 2020, when the cancellation of most professional pyrotechnics displays may have prompted more amateurs to set off the dangerous devices, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
An estimated 15,600 people were treated in hospital emergency departments during the year, most of them in the weeks before and after July 4, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said. The year’s total represented an increase of more than 50% from 10,000 such cases in 2019.
The total for 2020 includes at least 18 deaths from fireworks-related incidents, up from 12 the previous year, the agency said.
The number of injuries in 2020 marked the highest total since at least 2001, the earliest year for which data are available on the agency’s website, www.cpsc.gov.
The findings came as no surprise to physicians in Philadelphia, where police received more than 8,500 fireworks complaints in just 30 days last year, between May 29 and June 29.
At St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, the damage included burns, loss of fingers, and serious eye injuries, said Angela Kim, an emergency medicine physician. While she was unable to provide totals on short notice, Kim said 2020 seemed more severe than normal.
And as in any year, the tragedy is that such incidents are easily preventable, she said.
“A lot of injuries we see are where they’re holding one that is lit in their hand,” she said. “Or the fireworks are deployed when children are too close by.”
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Adequate distance and supervision by responsible adults are key, but sometimes both are lacking.
“People are using the fireworks when they’re celebrating, so the supervision of the children can get compromised while the adults are also participating,” she said.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s report is issued each year in June. The nationwide estimates for total fireworks-related injuries are based on a sample of emergency rooms at 100 hospitals.
Other details on injuries during 2020 include:
Of the 18 people who died, eight had used alcohol or drugs before the incident, the agency found.
Two-thirds of the year’s total injuries occurred during the month surrounding July 4, from June 21 to July 21. While many were relatively minor, 21% of the injuries required hospital admission.
During that month, young adults aged 20 to 24 saw the biggest rise in emergency-room visits of any age group, with 17 injuries per 100,000 people — six times the rate of 2.8 injuries per 100,000 during that month in 2019.
In Pennsylvania, one factor in the growing number of injuries may be access to more powerful fireworks. As of 2017, residents can buy consumer-grade “Class C” fireworks with up to 50 milligrams of explosive material, according to state police.
With the passage of that law, Philadelphia had to update its fire code to allow the devices, which previously had been banned without a permit.
Still, the city was able to maintain certain restrictions in its 2019 revision. Fireworks can’t be set off within 150 feet of an occupied structure, under trees, under power lines, or on public property. That would seem to rule out most of the city.
And yet the constant bang-bang on summer nights — sometimes followed by the screech of emergency sirens — suggests those rules are regularly flouted.