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4th of July Holiday Safety Advice from Local and State Officials

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Lea Mathison from the Emergency Department at MercyOne shares insight on water and fireworks safety.

As we head into the 4th of July holiday weekend, local health officials want people to take extra care around fireworks.

The Iowa Department of Public Health recorded 167 cases of fireworks-related injuries in 2020.

“Fireworks can be very dangerous. They are not a toy, and they are something people need a lot of supervision with.”

That’s Lea Mathison is with the emergency department at MercyOne in Sioux City.

“We see hand injuries where people lose their fingers; We see fireworks that burn people’s eyes. We see kids because people think sparklers are toys, and we see bad burns on the face, arms, and legs.”

Some fireworks, including sparklers, can burn at temperatures up to 2,200 degrees. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports fireworks are involved in more than 15,000 injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms every year, with about 15% involving the eyes.

Even though people can buy fireworks in Sioux City, local police say they are only legal to fire off on July 3rd from 1 to 11 p.m. and on the 4th of July from 1 p.m. until midnight.

Each year in the United States, almost 4,000 people fall victim to drowning, including an estimated 32 in Iowa. Lea Mathison, with MercyOne in Sioux City, also talked to Siouxland Public Media’s Sheila Brummer about the importance of lifejackets to save lives.

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Submitted news release:

Four safety tips to enjoy fireworks, protect sensitive people

Note: This is a joint press release from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Department of Public Health and the State Fire Marshal’s office 

MEDIA CONTACTS: 

DNR: Brian Hutchins at 515-725-9550 or Brian.Hutchins@dnr.iowa.gov

DPS: Debbie McClung, 515-725-6093 or mcclung@dps.state.ia.us.

As much as we love fireworks, drifting smoke can cause breathing problems for some and drought conditions may pose additional risks this year.

Dry conditions and the threat of fires may cause some towns, especially in northwest Iowa, to take extra precautions with their fireworks displays. Whether attending a display or celebrating in your backyard, keep these four safety tips in mind.

  1. Keep sensitive people upwind

“First, if your family or friends suffer from asthma or respiratory difficulties, it’s important for them to stay upwind, a safe distance from fireworks smoke,” says Brian Hutchins, DNR air quality supervisor. “The elderly and children are also vulnerable to high levels of smoke.”

Sensitive people are most likely to have trouble breathing when air is stagnant. With no breeze, fine particles can be trapped near the ground and build to unhealthy levels.

Smoke contains fine particles and gases, which can be hard on the lungs. Fine particles in fireworks’ smoke come from black powder used to shoot fireworks skyward along with metals that produce brilliant colors.

In 2020, Davenport, Des Moines and Muscatine recorded fine particle levels exceeding national standards on the Fourth. Des Moines exceeded the standard again the following day. Fine particle levels stayed below national standards on days surrounding the Fourth of July in 2021. Learn more about fine particles (PM2.5) and how fireworks displays can affect sensitive populations.

Those unable to avoid areas of dense smoke should limit outdoor activity and contact their health care provider if experiencing difficulty breathing.

  1. Protect family and friends from burns

Second, while fireworks and celebrations go together, remember fireworks, even sparklers, can cause serious burns, eye injuries and hearing loss. The Iowa Department of Public Health encourages families to make sure an adult supervises fireworks and keeps young children from playing with or igniting them. They also recommend wearing earplugs to protect against hearing loss.

Keep fireworks pointed away from you and others when igniting them, and back up quickly after lighting. If fireworks don’t ignite or burn fully, don’t try to relight them or pick them up. Keep a bucket of water or hose on hand to respond to a fire or mishap.

Check for more safety tips from the Consumer Product and Safety Commission. Check with local authorities for restrictions on shooting fireworks inside city limits. Note that fireworks are prohibited in state parks -- only sparklers are allowed.

  1. Don’t risk a fire

Third, play it safe if dry conditions prevail at your location. Shooting off fireworks is no fun if they ignite a fire, burning lawns or nearby fields. It’s also smart to check the State Fire Marshal’s website at https://dps.iowa.gov/divisions/state-fire-marshal/burn-bans for any countywide burn bans. According to the State Fire Marshal Division, municipalities and citizens are allowed to shoot fireworks despite a countywide burn ban. However, if fireworks are determined to start a fire while a burn ban is in effect, responsible persons could be charged.

“Last year, there were numerous fires statewide in dumpsters and in private trash receptacles. In some cases, these fires caused larger structures, such as apartment buildings and homes, to also catch on fire,” says State Fire Marshal Dan Wood. “The public needs to make sure that whatever packaging is left over is extinguished. We recommend proper disposal of used fireworks or packaging by dousing them in water. Let them sit for 10 to 15 minutes to make sure flames are out.”

If fireworks are allowed, place your launchpad on a hard, flat spot such as bare dirt or concrete. Avoid areas with trees, grass or buildings that might catch fire. For more consumer safety information from the State Fire Marshal Division, visit “Make Sure Your Fourth Rules” web page.

  1. Store and dispose of fireworks safely

Finally, play it safe and dispose of your unused fireworks carefully. Safe storage and disposal protects you, your family and your waste haulers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fireworks guidelines for businesses.

Sheila Brummer returns to her radio roots as a Reporter/Special Projects Producer for Siouxland Public Media KWIT-KOJI.