The 4th of July is a day for many people of parades, barbeque and of course fireworks. The tradition got its start when the founding fathers met in Philadelphia to write and sign the Declaration of Independence. The day after the Continental Congress voted for independence, John Adams, the future U.S. president, wrote to his wife Abigail. At the end of his letter he stated that Independence day
“ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”
One year later in 1777 Philadelphia had fireworks, which Adams called “illuminations,” plus a parade commemorating Independence Day. Since the 4th is so closely associated with fireworks here are four key points to talk about between explosions.
Firework Use is Growing
Currently, people in the US are shooting off almost one pound of fireworks each year for every man, woman and child. The amount of fireworks used has been growing over time. In 2000 the figure was roughly half-a-pound per person. Back in 1976, the US’s Bicentennial, the figure was about one-tenth of a pound annually.
A reason for the big increase is the steady reduction in state prohibitions against individuals using fireworks. Today only three states, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Delaware completely prohibit individuals from owning and using any type of fireworks. All the rest allow usage in some form. The most recent state to allow fireworks is Iowa. Iowa’s new law legalizes fireworks around the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve only.
Because states are now permitting individuals to purchase and possess fireworks there has been a large shift from professional to amateur use. Back in 2000, roughly one-third of all fireworks shot off into the sky were done for professional displays. By 2016 professional displays comprised less than ten percent.
Firework Prices Have Fallen
The vast majority of the fireworks shot off in the U.S. are manufactured overseas, mainly in China. Each shipment of fireworks brought into the U.S. includes a detailed invoice that shows the price the importer paid. These invoices show fireworks prices, after adjusting for inflation, are cheaper today than in the mid-1990s.
In 1996 it cost about $1.34 in today’s terms to import one pound of fireworks. By 2016 the price had fallen to just $1.17 a pound. That means pound-for-pound fireworks are about half the price of the frankfurters many people are grilling this 4th.
Accidents and injuries
Fireworks are dangerous. The increase in fireworks usage has increased injury rates. However, the U.S. today is not even close to the injury rates seen in the mid-1980s. Back in 1986 fireworks injured about 6.6 people out of every one-hundred thousand. This led some states and cities to ban their usage.
Since the peak in 1986, injuries have fallen over time. By 2008 the injury rate was down to 2.3 people out of every one-hundred thousand. As states have relaxed restrictions, the injury rate has started increasing again. The latest figures for 2016 show an injury rate of 3.4 people per hundred thousand. Even though the rates are low, every year there are horrible stories of both children and adults being maimed and killed.
Fireworks Now must meet Higher Standards
One reason why injury rates have fallen is because of the Federal government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission. This organization regulates fireworks under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. It banned the sale of the most dangerous fireworks, like M-80s and Cherry bombs in the 1960s.
Today, it is working to lower injury rates by requiring manufacturers to adhere to higher standards. This past February it put into law a number of common sense regulations to make firework manufacturers adhere to a higher standard.
For example, faulty fuses have caused many injuries. Some fuses burnt too quickly. This prevents the person lighting the rocket enough time to get away. Some fireworks’ fuses take too long to burn. This causes people to investigate if the fuse needs to be relit just as the firework explodes. The Commission now requires all fuses to ignite fireworks between 3 and 9 seconds after being lit.
The Commission also now requires fireworks with bases not tip over after being ignited. This prevents fireworks from becoming missiles bouncing along ground and then hitting spectators. It also now bans hazardous materials like lead from the powder inside fireworks. This ensures people downwind from the explosions are not poisoned by breathing the smoke.
As more states loosen restrictions on fireworks this 4th of July millions of additional people will follow the exhortations of John Adams and celebrate by lighting off fireworks. If you are shooting them off, use some common sense, especially if children are around. Whether you are lighting fireworks, watching them, or just hiding from the noise, I wish all of you “Happy Independence Day.”