Experts Fired Up Over Sparkler Hazards

ByABC News via logo

July 1, 2005 — -- Maddi de la Cruz was 6 years old last year when a sparkler at an Independence Day party ignited her shoe and burned much of the skin off her foot, requiring skin grafts.

"When I saw her foot and the skin hanging off of it and her screaming, I fainted," said Michelle Maloney, Maddi's mother.

In the spectrum of fireworks dangers, people rarely think of sparklers as a major hazard. But last year around the Fourth of July -- the season with nearly 70 percent of fireworks-related injuries -- 16 percent of reported injuries were caused by sparklers, according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. That's more injuries than were caused by rockets, and trails only the 17 percent caused by firecrackers and the 19 percent caused by unknown devices.

"Parents don't often realize that sparklers burn at a temperature of 2,000 degrees, and that is hot enough to melt some metals," said Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the CPSC, voicing the high end of temperature estimates that range upward from 1,200 degrees. "The best way for parents to keep their kids safe this Fourth of July is to never let their kids handle sparklers or fireworks of any kind."

Children often hold sparklers too close to themselves or others, and clothing can quickly go up in flames, officials say. In New Jersey, according to the CPSC, a 5-year-old boy's shirt caught fire, resulting in second-degree burns to his stomach and upper arm.

The American Pyrotechnics Association advises parents never to give sparklers to children 5 years old or younger, and to closely supervise older children who use them. The CPSC also advocates keeping sparklers and other fireworks from kids (see more CPSC fireworks tips below).

"You'd never give your child a soldering gun," said Davis, "but sparklers burn as hot as a soldering gun."

The National Fire Protection Association -- newly joined in their 95-year crusade against consumer fireworks by 20 other medical and fire-safety groups in The Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks -- puts it another way on its new promotional poster: Over a close-up view of a little girl, it says, "Would you let your child play with fire?"

The NFPA, and allies like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Burn Association, are calling for people to voluntarily abstain from all consumer fireworks, and instead to attend public, professionally run fireworks exhibitions -- where the safety risk may be lower.

"There's no need to put 1,200-degree-Fahrenheit metal into the hands of kids," said NFPA President James M. Shannon. "It's crazy that we just don't adopt laws banning the consumer use of fireworks."

Actually, in the past few years, several states have relaxed their rules about consumer fireworks. Only five Northeastern states -- Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island -- continue to ban them entirely, though other areas have strong state regulations or regional bans.

In addition, sales of backyard fireworks more than doubled from 102 million pounds in 2000 to 212 million pounds in 2002, an all-time high, according to Julie Heckman, a spokeswoman for the American Pyrotechnics Association.

"Telling people not to use fireworks simply falls upon deaf ears," Heckman said. "The vast majority of Americans are going to choose to celebrate Independence Day with backyard fireworks.

"We would be better served by putting out a message that clearly cautions users on how to use common sense," she added. "The injuries that occur, the fires that occur, they are all preventable. Injuries and fires occur because of improper use, not malfunction."

The total number of reported fireworks-related injuries have been fairly stable in recent years, approaching 10,000 annually. There were an estimated 9,600 fireworks-related injuries treated at emergency rooms in 2004, including 1,100 involving sparklers, according to the CPSC. More than half of the injuries were to children.

The CPSC's survey found eight fireworks-related deaths reported in the media.

To avoid injury or death, the CPSC recommends on its Web site that people follow the following fireworks safety tips:

ABC News' consumer correspondent Elisabeth Leamy and Michael S. James contributed to this report.