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This column first ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 3, 2006.

We as parents spend much of our time removing hazards from our children's paths.  This is the time of year, however, when many of us unintentionally place our children in harm's way by allowing them to use fireworks unsafely.

Every year around this time, emergency departments at pediatric hospitals encounter children who have been injured, sometimes seriously, by fireworks that were designed for fun. Of the nearly 10,000 people who are injured by fireworks each year, more than 60 percent are children and teen-agers.

"The most devastating thing we see with fireworks is an eye injury," says Dr. John Peter, an emergency physician in the Dan Dierdorf Pediatric Trauma Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center.  "We've seen children who have lost eyes and too many others who have suffered permanent loss of some vision."

Most eye injuries, Peter explains, involve bottle rockets because they are projectiles and are relatively inexpensive and easy to get.  Also, some bottle rocket accidents occur when a child leans over an unexploded rocket to see why it malfunctioned, only to have it launch into his or her face.

Even seemingly harmless fireworks can be quite dangerous.  For example, many parents will give young children a sparkler to twirl around because they don't explode.  In truth, however, sparklers burn at up to 2,000 degrees -- nearly 10 times hotter than boiling water.  That is hot enough to melt metal and plenty hot enough to do serious damage to skin or to set clothing on fire.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is one of many organizations that closely follow the incidence of fireworks injuries.  To safeguard your family, the CPSC recommends the following safety tips:   

  • Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.
  • Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.
  • Adults should always supervise fireworks activities.
  • Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not fully functioned.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
  • Light one item at a time, then move back quickly.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them in metal or glass containers.
  • Only light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from the house, dry leaves and flammable materials.

Some organizations advocate making all consumer fireworks illegal.  Others feel fireworks represent the freedom of choice and expression that make this country great.  Whatever your views, the most important consideration should be safety.

 "We strongly encourage parents to leave the pyrotechnics to professionals," Peter says.  "But if you're absolutely going to use fireworks at home, it's essential that they be used properly and with adult supervision."

Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center  and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at St. Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a child health question for Dr. Wilmott, go to the Ask Dr. Bob section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.


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