U of Iowa Study: Fireworks injuries to kids triple since legalization

Bottle rockets and fireworks on ground

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(Iowa City, IA) -- A study finds a big rise in fireworks injuries in Iowa, since fireworks sales became legal in 2017. A University of Iowa report finds injuries to children have tripled.

The report was compiled by University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics researchers, the University’s College of Public Health, and the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research, along with ER personnel from Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines. The study finds fireworks-related injuries more than doubled in the period between 2017 and 2019 from 2014 through the first half of 2017.

The two trauma centers saw a combined 107 fireworks-related injuries during the two year period, compared to 43 in the three years prior to 2017. For patients under the age of 18, the number of injuries rose from 11% to nearly 31% after the legalization of fireworks.

Researchers say injuries were more serious during the time frame, with 18% of injuries required amputation, mostly fingers. There were no amputations recorded in the three years prior to legalization.

“Fourth of July is such a festive occasion, and it’s been ingrained in people that fireworks go with the holiday,” says Colette Galet, PhD, ELS, associate research scientist in the trauma center at UI Hospitals & Clinics and one of the authors of the report. “People believe that now that they’ve been legalized, they can safely set fireworks off in their backyard or in their driveway.”

“I think people believe that since they’ve been legalized they must be safe,” adds Michael Takacs, MD, FAAEM, 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.” Dr. Takacs says many of the children who were injured, were bystanders watching while someone else actually lit the fireworks.

In the report, which is a follow up to a previous report published in 2017, researchers note that fireworks-related injuries were relatively consistent – 10 to 20 each year – in the years before legalization, and that those injuries more than doubled to just under 40 in 2017. The number of injuries remained high through 2019.

The report also found the number of people handling fireworks and being injured increased, from 52% before legalization to 64% after.

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