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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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.