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University of Iowa News Release

June 5, 2003

Eye Specialists Urge Fireworks Safety

Decades of accidents teach us that fireworks are dangerous. More than 11,000 fireworks-related injuries occur in the United States each year, resulting in approximately 2,000 eye injuries.

The typical victim is a teenager, at home, unsupervised, with a group of friends. They are playing with fireworks and chances are one of them will end up in the emergency room with an injury to the head, eyes or hands. Losing your sight or losing a finger is a tragic price to pay for a few minutes of fun with fireworks.

In an effort to reduce these preventable injuries, eye specialists across America encourage families to attend local public fireworks displays instead of using fireworks at home this Fourth of July. This recommendation is made as part of Fireworks Eye Safety Month sponsored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Attending a public fireworks display on the Fourth is a safe way to honor our tradition of independence.

"One of the reasons fireworks injuries continue to occur is because people don't know how dangerous these devices can be. Each year, the legal, Class C common fireworks cause thousands of injuries," said Culver Boldt, M.D., an associate professor in the University of Iowa Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. "The risk of losing an eye is not worth the excitement of watching fireworks explode."

Although illegal fireworks, bottle rockets and Roman candles account for the majority of injuries, seemingly harmless sparklers also cause numerous injuries each year. For children under age 5, sparklers account for three-fourths of all fireworks injuries. Fascinated by the bright sparks, children find these sticks of fire - burning as hot as 1,200 degrees, which is hot enough to melt gold - irresistible to touch.

"The safest and most spectacular way to view fireworks is through professionally conducted, community sponsored displays," Boldt said.

Eye specialists recommend following the guidelines below to help prevent fireworks injuries.

-- View public fireworks displays from at least 500 feet (1/4 mile) away.
-- Respect the safety barriers set up by pyrotechnicians.
-- Let trained professionals light the fireworks.
-- Follow the directions of local firemen and police at public displays.
-- Do not touch unexploded fireworks.

Consumer fireworks cause one-third of eye injuries each year. Eighteen percent of fireworks injuries involve the eyes. Young people under age 25 suffer two-thirds of all firework injuries. Ten percent of these suffer permanent damage, such as the loss of an eye, finger or hand. Bottle rockets are the most dangerous. The rockets fly erratically and the bottles or cans used to launch the rockets can explode, showering fragments of glass or metal, often resulting in bystander injuries.

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