Certain legal fireworks might be better left on store shelves, a recently published study conducted at UW Medicine’s Harborview Medical Center finds.
An analysis of 294 Harborview patients with severe fireworks injuries over 10 years (2005-2015) found that shell and mortars style fireworks caused 39 percent of injuries. Two patients died.
Shells are sphere-shaped aerial explosives designed to be manually thrown or launched from a tube, called a mortar. Shells and mortars are legal under both federal and Washington state law.
The study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that specific severe injury patterns varied by fireworks type. In their study, “severe injury” referred to injuries that required hospitalization, surgery or both.
“We wanted to know, among injuries requiring hospital admission and/or surgery, is there a type of firework that causes the most injuries – and if so, what types of injuries does it cause?” said lead author Dr. Brinkley Sandvall, a plastic surgery resident at the University of Washington. “Shells and mortars caused the highest proportion of severe injuries and disproportionately injure the hands, eyes, and brain.”
In many cases, severe firework injuries require multiple surgeries and can cause permanent impairment, as with limb amputation or vision loss. The study found that 70 percent of eye-injured patients experienced partial or complete permanent vision loss. Thirty-seven percent of hand-injured patients required at least one partial or whole finger/hand amputation. Shells and mortars caused more permanent impairment than other fireworks types.
Sandvall says most prior studies on firework injuries focus on minor injuries which do not require hospital admission or surgery. She says the importance of this study is that it focuses on severe injury patterns and permanent impairment and then directly compares firework types causing these injuries. She says her findings question the safety of federally and Washington state-legal shells/mortars.
“This firework injury study is an excellent example of how real-world injuries treated at our trauma center contribute to our knowledge of injury causes and prevention,” said co-author Dr. Monica Vavilala, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center (HIPRC). “The next step is to apply our new knowledge to health practices, policy decisions and individual behavior.”
Sandvall conducted the study with support from Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and the UW Medicine’s Division of Plastic Surgery as well as the departments of surgery, anesthesiology and pain medicine and the UW School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology.
To celebrate safely, she recommends leaving the fireworks to the professionals.
The study was also featured on UW Health Science’s NewsBeat.
Photo of fireworks, top, by Anthony Cramp. Photo of mortar fireworks on store shelves, right, by Teknorat.