The Fourth of July is a day of festivities: a time to spend with loved ones, barbecue in the backyard and blow stuff up. That last part makes Independence Day an incredibly expensive holiday that costs consumers billions in fireworks and self-inflicted injuries.
In an ironic economic twist, a whopping 99% of consumer fireworks are imported from China. Undeterred by their origin, Americans spend more than $1 billion on fireworks each year, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. By weight, that makes for roughly 268 million pounds of fireworks — or roughly a pound of pyrotechnics for every American man, woman and child.
Because many type of fireworks are outlawed in many urban areas as well as across entire states, many people set off their own glittering displays. That causes people — namely, men — to burn themselves at incredibly high rates, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The independent government agency notes that in a one-month period between June and July 2017, men experienced almost 70% of fireworks-related injuries.
Today, only a slim 10% of fireworks displays are set off professionally. And last year, there were an estimated 12,900 firework-related emergency room visits across the country, with hands, heads, and faces as the most injured body parts from products including roman candles, bottle rockets, sparklers, and other assorted firecrackers, also according to data from the CPSC.
Some states have tried to get out ahead of injuries and occasional casualties that come from exuberant July Fourth celebrations. Massachusetts bans all fireworks, period. Ohio, Illinois, and Vermont only allow sparklers (which should still be used with extreme caution, as those little sparking sticks get several times hotter than heated cooking oil). And many urban areas ban fireworks except on approved days like July 4.
Meanwhile, outside the U.S., other countries made the move toward safer fireworks alternatives, like drone swarms. But unless Americans can be convinced that gadgets flying in formation are as patriotic as setting themselves on fire, we’re probably going to continue setting some bizarre July Fourth records for burns, blisters, and, well, hopefully barbecues, too.
While the overall injury rates are down, fireworks still cause an average of seven deaths a year, with four firework-related fatalities in 2016, according to CPSC. The APA notes that 20,000 people are injured every year by barbecue grills, and more than 120,000 people are injured by baseballs annually.