Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Legal Fireworks are Likely the Most Dangerous Kinds, Washington Researchers Say

About 10, 500 people are treated every year for fireworks-related injuries in the United States, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A new study from the University of Washington suggests certain fireworks that are legal to buy in most states are likely the most dangerous.

Researchers from UW Medicine and the UW School of Public Health say shell-and-mortar fireworks cause nearly 40 percent of fireworks-related injuries resulting in hospitalization. This finding is based on data from 294 patients admitted with severe fireworks injuries to Harborview Medical Center, the only Level 1 adult and pediatric trauma center for the states of Washington, Alaska, Montano, and Idaho.

Researchers used Harborview’s trauma registry to gather data on patients admitted with fireworks injuries from 2005 to 2015. They pulled information about their age, gender, and race, as well as the type of firework that caused their injury and the number of operations they required. Researchers recorded specific injury types, such as fractures or burns, for each part of the body. They also assessed any permanent impairment to the eyes (visual defect) and hands (amputation distribution).

The findings, published online April 25 in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, showed that shell-and-mortar fireworks were more likely to cause brain, face and hand injuries than other types of fireworks. They were also the most common cause of eye and hand injuries resulting in permanent impairment.

Shells are spherical aerial explosives designed to be manually thrown or launched from a tube, called a mortar. Shell-and-mortar fireworks are legal under federal law and can be purchased legally in 41 states.

Findings also showed that there were more rocket injuries in children, more homemade firework injuries in teens and more shell-and-mortar injuries in adults. According to the study, 55 percent of patients were admitted and required surgery, 40 percent were admitted, but did not undergo surgery, and five percent underwent outpatient surgery. About 90 percent of the patients admitted were male.

The lead author of the study was Dr. Brinkley Sandvall, a plastic surgery resident at the UW School of Medicine. Dr. Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, assistant professor of epidemiology at the UW School of Public Health, and Dr. Alex Quistberg, who took part in the study as a PhD student in the School’s Department of Epidemiology, were co-authors. Collaborators also included Ms. Lauren Jacobson, Mr. Ryan Dodge, Dr. Monica Vavilala, Dr. Jeffrey Friedrich and Dr. Kari Keys.


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