Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, July 09, 2015


No doubt you have heard of the latest Darwin Award winner (award not yet official) who removed himself from the gene pool by launching a firework off his head. Then there are two NFL players, Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul  and  Bucs cornerback C.J. Wilson who lost fingers to fireworks this July 4. It was less well-publicized, but there was a second Darwin Award winner whose preferred launch pad was his chest.

So this got me to wondering exactly how big of a public health problem this really is. Well, that's kind of a subjective question. It seems more than 11,000 ER visits each year result from consumer fireworks along with more than 18,000 fires (mostly brush fires but 1,200 structural fires and 400 vehicle fires) causing $32 million in damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association, drawing on mostly government stats.

That sounds like a pretty heavy toll but it's a big country. It pales in comparison with motor vehicle injuries, obviously (2.5 million ER visits, and counting lost work and lifetime medical costs, well over $50 billion in direct costs. Also, of course, almost 34,000 deaths).

The significance of fireworks injuries and damage is therefore sort of imponderable. We don't have a denominator, i.e. how many people use consumer fireworks and how often, so I can't compute the individual risk for people who do. And you may feel that you're not a doofus and that it's probably doofitude (likely alcohol enhanced) that results in the majority of unfortunate events. I have no way of knowing how true this is either.

But, this is a fairly frivolous activity. There are safer ways to entertain yourself and you can always go to the professional display and mingle with your townspeople. So I would ask, is it worth it? As for legal restrictions, I think that too some extent you have the right to be a doofus but most injuries are to children, which does cut strongly against the libertarian point of view here. I am not personally inclined to make a cause out of this but you might want to just throw a frisbee instead.


kathy a. said...

Well, I have an opinion, which is that the illegality of fireworks in my local area is really great -- and that this year, for whatever reason, idjits were setting them off for over a week. WE'RE IN A FREAKIN' 4 year DROUGHT. STUFF BURNS WELL AROUND HERE. (See, Oakland Hills Firestorm.) THERE ARE PLENTY OF PUBLIC DISPLAYS OVER WATER on the 4th.

We had a swell grassfire a couple hundred feet from my house, the other night. The grass had been mowed; multiple units showed up quickly. It did not spread to the urban forest very nearby. But BOOM, if it had. Things are dry. Lotta very flammable material there. Somebody was setting off fireworks just minutes after the flames were out.

Also, one time when I lived in a state that allowed fireworks to be sold in shacks by the side of the road, some kid shot one off and it grazed/burned my arm. Fortunately, just my arm. Everybody there wrote me off as one of those nutty Californians for even thinking that was a problem.

Grumble grumble. But fireworks are mostly a problem around certian holidays. Isn't it possible to look for prevalance of those injuries within a week of those holidays?

kathy a. said...

July 4; new year's eve; maybe chinese new year. Those are the ones I can think of.

Cervantes said...

Yes, if you follow the link there is info on prevalence around the July 4 holiday. Obviously it's much higher than normal.