Fireworks mishaps injure thousands each year

By Thomas Wilson

   Fireworks are fun.
   They are also extremely dangerous, causing thousands of injuries each year.
   The City of Elizabethton is on the verge of becoming one of only two municipalities in Northeast Tennessee where fireworks can be purchased and fired, provided the City Council passes an ordinance legalizing such action next week.
   "They've been shooting inside Elizabethton city limits for years," said Councilwoman Nancy Alsup, a longtime Mill Street resident. "I don't see anything wrong with celebrating our freedom once a year."
   City Council passed the ordinance on first reading by a 4 to 2 margin. Second reading and a public hearing on the ordinance will be held during the next Council meeting on July 10.
   Alsup said she understood why the city's fire and police departments did not support legalizing fireworks. She said that she also recognized the potential dangers of fireworks, but "that's where supervision comes in.
   "I believe if they will be supervised it will be fine," she said.
   The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has estimated that approximately 10,000 Americans have been injured annually in fireworks-related incidents over the past decade, with serious misuse accounting for a large majority of the incidents.
   CPSC monitors a sample of hospital rooms and produces annual injury estimates associated with a number of consumer products based upon the injuries that are recorded on these selected hospitals.
   According to the Electronic Injury Surveillance System used by CPSC, the rate of injury per use of fireworks has declined somewhat as fireworks sales have skyrocketed.
   The commission reported that more than 12,000 persons were injured by fireworks in 1990. In 2002, 8,800 Americans were injured in fireworks accidents, according to CPSC. The rate of injury has dropped from 17.7 injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks sold in 1990 to 4.6 injuries per 100,000 last year. CPSC also reports illegal or homemade fireworks such as M-80s and "cherry bombs" constitute 30-33 percent of the injuries associated with fireworks.
   According to the U.S. International Trade Commission based in Washington, D.C., 190 million pounds of fireworks were purchased last year -- up almost 30 million pounds over 2001 sales. Those numbers are compared to 1990 when approximately 67.5 million pounds of fireworks were purchased, according to the trade commission.
   City Planning and Development Director David Ornduff said the planning staff would likely prepare an amendment to the zoning ordinance to include fireworks retailers as business entities.
   "They would have to be involved in the appropriate business zones; they would have to have a business license, and follow all aspects of the ordinance," said Ornduff.
   Arterial business district is defined under zoning code as any district located on an arterial street such as West Elk Ave. or Milligan Highway or other major thoroughfares within the city.
   Ornduff also said seasonal fireworks retailers would be strictly prohibited from selling in any non-arterial business zones or residentially zoned areas.
   The neighboring states of Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina strictly prohibit the sale or discharge of explosive or aerial fireworks, roman candles, rockets or similar devices. All three states do allow the sale and use non-exploding fireworks such as sparklers, smoke devices, and trick noisemakers.