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Safety tips to enjoy fireworks, protect sensitive people

This news story was published on June 23, 2020.
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DES MOINES – The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is offering tips to the public on how to safely enjoy fireworks this summer:

As much as we love fireworks displays, drifting smoke can cause breathing problems for some and large crowds may pose a risk this year.

COVID-19 has caused some towns to cancel fireworks displays, while others have modified their events. Whether attending a display or celebrating in your backyard, keep these four safety tips in mind.

“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 higher 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.

Information from Iowa DNR

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

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

Second, while fireworks and celebrations go together, remember fireworks can cause serious burns and eye injuries. 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. 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.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reports there were 13 inpatient hospitalizations and 121 outpatient hospitalizations related to fireworks injuries last year. Check for more safety tips from the Consumer Product and Safety Commission. Check with local authorities for restrictions on shooting fireworks inside city limits.

Third, stay six feet away from others, gather in groups of 10 or less, cover your mouth and nose, and wash hands or use a hand sanitizer frequently. Stay home if you or someone in your household is sick. Find guidelines to protect yourself and others under Coronavirus resources at or at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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.

In 2017, Fourth of July fireworks in Des Moines gave rise to fine particle levels that exceeded national standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Learn more about fine particles (PM2.5) and how fireworks displays can affect sensitive populations.

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