IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – Fireworks injuries more than doubled in Iowa in the four years since a 2017 law legalized their sale and use by consumers, with far more children getting hurt and more patients requiring amputation, according to state data and a new study.
Emergency room visits stemming from fireworks-related injuries rose to an annual average of 147 from 2017 through 2020, according to Iowa Department of Public Health data obtained Thursday. That’s a 114% increase from the state average of 69 over the previous four years.
A new study found that the state’s two largest trauma centers have seen notable increases since bottle rockets, roman candles and other consumer explosives became legal.
Medical personnel at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City and Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines treated 107 patients with fireworks injuries from the law’s inception through 2019, compared to 42 over the previous three years.
Patients are now younger and more seriously injured, and are usually the handlers of the fireworks rather than bystanders, the study found.
The most significant change was an increase in amputations, mostly fingers. No amputations had been recorded since 2014, but 18% of patients with fireworks injuries at the two hospitals required amputations from 2017 through 2019, the study said.
Children have been disproportionately affected. Nearly one in every three patients treated at the two hospitals since 2017 was under the age of 18, up from one in five before legalization.
Statewide, the injury rate for children between the ages of 5 and 14 rose 140% in the first three years of legalization.
Injuries to the hands and burns are the most common, followed by injuries to the eyes and face. Not surprisingly, injuries are concentrated around the July 4 holiday weekend.
“I think people believe that since they’ve been legalized they must be safe,” said Michael Takacs, professor of emergency medicine at UI Carver College of Medicine and one of the report’s authors. “You see other people buying them, or you’re at a park or family gathering and other people are setting off fireworks so you want to be part of the celebration. It gives people a false sense of security.”
Researchers recommended new safety campaigns that target high-risk populations and highlight emerging trends, additional steps to stop children and intoxicated people from using fireworks, and more statewide research and reporting on injuries.
Most patients are treated by emergency personnel and released, but the Iowa Department of Public Health said 22 fireworks injuries required hospital admissions in 2020.
The increase in injuries began immediately after Iowa became the 43rd state to allow retailers to sell fireworks in 2017, lifting a ban that had been in place for decades. “Let the fireworks begin,” then-Gov. Terry Branstad said after signing the bill into law.
The law allows licensed retailers to sell fireworks to consumers from June 1 through July 8 and Dec. 10 through Jan. 3. Consumers can legally set them off in municipalities that have not banned their use.
Fireworks are for sale this year at 583 licensed sites, from Flashing Thunder Fireworks in Adel to Wild Willy’s in Webster City, according to the Iowa Fire Marshal’s office. Many are in temporary tents.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated in a report this week that 2020 saw a 50% increase nationally in fireworks injuries, with emergency room visits rising to more than 15,000.
The agency attributed the increase, after years of mostly stable rates, to the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted the cancellation of many public fireworks displays and more people to shoot off fireworks on their own.
This year, Iowa officials are warning of the increased risks of fire and breathing problems caused by fireworks due to dry conditions. They warned that drifting smoke can also cause problems for people with asthma or respiratory issues, and that the elderly and children are vulnerable.