- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008


For backyard patriots, the rockets available this Fourth of July are flashier, more creative and louder than ever.

Because of an increase in the legal limit of the amount of pyrotechnic material allowed in consumer fireworks - the kind purchased in roadside trucks and shot off of private lawns - a whole new class of recreational explosive has become available to amateur enthusiasts, said Harry Chang of Black Cat Fireworks Inc.

At the same time, the use of backyard fireworks has more than doubled since 2000, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. That has caused concern among some public safety groups that the rise in both popularity and firepower could prove a combustible mix.

“It’s like how Giorgio Armani might develop a pair of jeans that the average person could never have, but eventually lesser designers come out with their own versions,” Mr. Chang said. “Over the years, smaller, safer versions of professional fireworks have trickled down to consumers.”

Julie Heckman, executive director of the pyrotechnic industry group, credits the growing popularity of fireworks to a rise in patriotism after the millennium celebrations followed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In 2007 , Americans used 280 million pounds of display and backyard fireworks - nearly 10 times the amount used in 1976, the year Ms. Heckman said “put the firework industry on the map” with America’s bicentennial celebration.

Chief among recent innovations is the multishot aerial that explodes in varying hues up to 100 yards in the air. Mr. Chang called it a “display in a box.”

Backyard pyrotechnicians also can find fireworks in a wider variety of colors, including magenta, lemonade and the difficult to create deep blue, along with effects that were once the sole purview of professionals, like rockets that burst into bow ties, stars and happy faces.

Looser laws also have had some effect. Five more states have permitted fireworks or relaxed laws since 2000, Ms. Heckman said, though Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island still ban them completely out of safety concerns.

Stricter regulations at the federal level make the storage, transport and purchase of fireworks safer, said Alan Zoldan, executive vice president of the Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks.

Still, the National Fire Protection Association advocates a total ban on consumer fireworks. More fires typically are reported in the U.S. on Independence Day than on any other day of the year, said spokeswoman Lorraine Carlie.

“We feel fireworks are too risky a product for the general public to use,” she said. “There’s a big problem with fires starting when they hit buildings or dry, grassy areas.”

In 2006, the risk of injury was 2 1/2 times greater for children aged 10 to 14 than for adults, she said.

“Parents underestimate how dangerous fireworks can be. With alcohol in the mix, a bunch of people and the dark, the Fourth of July is an incredible holiday to work the ER because of all the stuff that happens,” said Dr. Denise Dowd, who works in the emergency division of Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

Industry representatives counter that the products come with instructions restricting them to use by adults only. They also point out what they say has been a 91 percent decrease in the rate of fireworks-related injuries since the bicentennial, even as fireworks have become popular at a host of non-patriotic events.



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