Dr. Kevin Most: Firework safety
Each year we take a few minutes to remind people about the health dangers associated with the Fourth of July. This is not to be a downer on the holiday but more about how to enjoy the holiday and minimize health issues.
The holiday is a day to celebrate the great country we live in, with that comes traditions. These traditions expand from what we eat to how we celebrate.
One big concern is the use of fireworks and the dangers of the mishandled fireworks. The most prudent thing to do is to allow the fireworks to be handled by professionals. Many however purchase their own fireworks and with the legal issues in the state of Illinois the fireworks purchased here are often illegally produced and not safe.
Those who do decide to purchase and use their own fireworks, please follow a few simple safety tips. First is good preparation, a water source should always be available, either a buck of water or a hose hooked up to a water source is key. This helps with the possibility of anyone needing a water source for a fire. Eye protection should always be worn, for many this is difficult as the only eye protection many individuals own is sunglasses. Sunglasses protect the eyes but increase the chances of errors and accidents as wearing sunglasses at night often do. Choose an individual who is responsible and has not been drinking as the person involved in deciding where and when fireworks will be used.
Some specific concerns that need to be highlighted
- Sparklers should never be given to young children, these are much too dangerous for many children. Sparklers can reach 1,800 degrees and they are hot enough to melt some metals. The damage this can do to children extends beyond simple burns and extensive eye exams to themselves. The young individual who is running and not aware of their surroundings in the dark can cause burns to others as well as set fire to other children. Children love sparklers but each child should have a responsible adult monitoring the use of these.
- Bottle rockets- these small arial fireworks can also be quite dangerous. The concept behind them is to have black powder which shoots the canister in the sky and then an explosion occurs as the heat source hits the pyrotechnic portion. The ones used in a backyard setting are just miniature versions of the ones used professionally. These rockets can travel at well over 100 mph and cause burns, eye trauma and contusions. Again having an adult to oversee the use of these is important. Bottle rocket fights among teens has caused numerous cases of burns, eye injuries and facial trauma.
- Firecrackers come in multiple sizes and strengths. The fuses for firecrackers is not standard and thus the timing of the explosion is not predictable. Firecrackers should not be lit and then thrown for many reasons. The simple one is one we see all the time and that is the explosion occurs before the firecracker leaves the hand. The impact of this can be a simple burn all the way to amputation of a portion of the hand. Firecrackers should also not be placed in objects that can cause shrapnel as the individuals standing near by may be injured.
- Duds – Do not run over and look to see why a dud did not explode nor should you try to re light a dud. Each of these is less safe than the original unsafe product so stay away from them. Duds should be doused with water and then placed in a water bucket for cooling before being placed in the garbage.
So what can we do to prevent and what should we do if an injury occurs.
- Sparklers- consider using glow sticks for these children. Kids can have just as much fun and without the potential for life long impact from harm. A parent who allows the sparkler and ends up with a child with a facial burn will be reminded daily of their poor decision. Children who sustain an injury with a sparkler need to be evaluated in an Emergency Department. If there is an eye injury, cover the eye with a protective shield that prevent s the child from rubbing the eye, which could cause more damage. Eye injuries from any fireworks should be evaluated immediately in the Emergency Department.
- Injuries for mottle rockets can vary from minimal to serious. Any injury in the face or neck should be seen in the emergency room. Any burn that causes blistering should be evaluated by a physician for evaluation as well as for a treatment plan.
- Injuries in the hand from fireworks should be evaluated immediately. Trauma to nerves in the hands as well as some burns in the hands need immediate treatment and evaluation. Digits that are blown off completely should be placed in a zip lock bag and placed on ice.
- Keep a large bucket of water available , this can be used to help put out a fire as well a place to place duds after an initial soaking. Having a blanket and the knowledge of how to help smother a fire that is on an individual is key to minimizing the impact of a burn.
- Superficial burns should be treated with ice packs and evaluation by a physician to decide if further treatment, antibiotics or any immunizations are needed.
Just a quick few words on what we eat. Often the setting is a picnic on the 4th, the concern with picnics is the food items should be monitored and limited. Food borne illnesses are common, the combination of heat and exposed food leads to many types of food poisoning.
Just a few highlights
No item of food should be left out in the sun for more than four hours, even if placed on an ice bed.
- Undercooked meat is an obvious concern and that can happen often with backyard cookouts where there is speed needed to prepare larger amounts than one would normally prepare. Meats should all be prepared to a temp of 160.
- Dressings with creams or raw eggs are very concerning if left in the sun, my rule is Caesar’s salad should eaten in a restaurant.
- Believe it or not watermelon is a concern and the cleaning of the outside is key to minimizing this from causing problems, this also is true for many other vegetables and fruits that may have come in contact with bad soil.
- Pass on the deviled eggs, unless they have come from the refrigerator and have not been out in the sun at all.
- Stay away from the potato and macaroni salads if they have been out in the sun.
Overall only have foods that have been outside for a short period of time and are placed on an ice bath, also consider the amount of time that salad may have been sitting in the car on its way to your house.