Explosive facts and figures on fireworks

By The Numbers

July 02, 2000|By Crystal Williams | Crystal Williams,Sun Staff

The rumblings started long before the first cork was popped at midnight on Dec. 31. Beware, celebrators of millennial events were told, you may run out of fireworks. And that could mean a shortage for the year 2000 Fourth of July.

No fireworks for the Fourth? That would be positively un-American.

As it turns out, there was a good old-fashioned American reason for the anxiety: hype.

"There's no possible way fireworks could run out," says Ed Stanley, owner of fireworks distribution company Celebration Inc. in Indianapolis. "Everybody anticipated the growth in fireworks because of the millennium," agrees John Conklin, technical director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, assuring us that anyone still worried about not seeing bombs bursting in air Tuesday night can rest easy.

With that explosive little fiction out of the way, then, here are a few more interesting facts about fireworks:

* The major component of a firework is gunpowder, or black powder. That's why your fireworks do not have an expiration date -- the chemicals won't break down unless they are dampened.

* The fireworks you see at those roadside stands are known as Class C fireworks and are meant for consumer use. They contain up to 15 milligrams of gunpowder, about the same amount as a fuse for the detonators used to set off explosions.

* Before any Class C firework is sold, it must pass four consumer safety tests, including the burn time of fuses, proper chemical composition and performance. They also are tested for exposure to heat, placed in a chamber heated at 167 degrees Fahrenheit for 48 hours to make sure they don't detonate.

("A legal firework will burn down, and an illegal firework will detonate," said Julie Heckman, executive director for the American Pyrotechnics Association. Illegal fireworks are considered dangerous because the exact amount of gunpowder they contain is unknown.)

* The only Class C fireworks permitted in the state of Maryland are sparklers, snaps, and snakes, which are very small firework devices.

* Though companies like Celebration Inc. ship and package fireworks, 90 percent of fireworks are made in China, according to Conklin.

* Class B fireworks (containing more than 15 milligrams of gunpowder) are used for aerial fireworks displays. For a single night's display, thousands of pounds of fireworks will be used.

* The rarest firework color? Blue is the most difficult color to make. The color of a firework is determined by the particular makeup of the chemicals in each shell. The industry still hasn't found a chemical reaction to make a truly brilliant blue.

* The different shapes of aerial fireworks are achieved by gluing the colored chemical pellets onto paper in the shapes desired. For millennium celebrations, a firework shell that explodes into an "O" shape was developed. When two are shot simultaneously, they create a double O in the sky, shorthand for the year 2000.

* While most humans seem to love fireworks displays, pets generally do not. "Don't bring pets," says Conklin. "It's very troublesome to dogs. They don't like the loud booms."

* Despite annual warnings about fireworks safety, thousands of people are injured annually; 7,000 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries in 1998, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Fireworks safety

How basic do safety warnings have to be when it comes to fireworks? Consider these tips:

* Light fireworks one at a time.

* Never throw or point fireworks at people or other living things.

* Use outdoors only.

Source: National Council on Fireworks Safety

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