Fireworks-related injuries in West Virginia shot up 40 percent following passage of a 2016 law that allows purchase and possession of Class C fireworks, according to a WVU study. (WVU Photo)

Passage of 2016 fireworks law ignites increase in fireworks-related injuries in West Virginia

All those pops and crackles ripping through your neighborhood at night could come with unwanted consequences – at the firework enthusiast’s expense.

Fireworks-related injuries in West Virginia have shot up 40 percent since a 2016 state law liberalized the sale of certain fireworks, categorized as “Class C” or “1.4G,” according to Toni Marie Rudisill, research assistant professor at the West Virginia University School of Public Health.

Class C fireworks, which include Roman candles, bottle rockets and fountains, are generally fireworks that can be easily purchased anywhere, unlike Class B or 1.3G fireworks, which are for large displays and pyrotechnics shows.

A research team, led by Rudisill, published a study this year comparing fireworks-related injury rates in West Virginia before and after passage of the new law.

Rudisill and her colleagues – Katarina Preamble, a 2018 School of Public Health graduate and current research data coordinator at WVU Medicine, and Dr. Courtney Pilkerton, chief resident in the Department of Family Medicine — collected data from medical records of patients treated by the WVU Medicine system over a two-year period. Pre- and post-law periods were defined as June 1, 2015 to May 31, 2016, and June 1, 2016 to May 31, 2017, respectively.

Their study found that 56 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries throughout the timeframe. Most patients (64 percent) were older than 25 and male (77 percent). The injury rate per 100,000 patients was about 40 percent higher after the law was enacted, according to the report.

The booms and bangs heard outside of Rudisill’s home back in the summer of 2016 sparked the study.

“I am an injury epidemiologist and one of my research foci is in injury policy,” Rudisill said. “I am fascinated by the effects that injury-related policies have on injury rates in populations. One evening in the summer of 2016, it sounded like a war zone outside my house, which is located right outside of Morgantown. Fireworks were going almost all constantly all evening—which I had not really heard before that point.” 

Rudisill realized that a recent law had liberated fireworks sales. With House Bill 2852, West Virginia had joined 14 other states in loosening firework sales and possession since 2000.

“I had made an off-hand comment to my spouse that I felt bad for the hospital trauma and EMS response teams because they may be having a busy evening,” Rudisill said. “Then naturally, I started wondering if that would indeed be true. That was the genesis of this particular study. I was curious to see if the change in legislation was associated with an increase in injuries and/or injury severity.”

The increase in injuries was apparent, but there were no changes in injury severity, researchers concluded. Burns, contusions and lacerations, mainly to the hands, arms and eyes, are commonplace, the study found, while the most severe injuries included partial or full amputations.

Patients under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs generally had more severe injuries, Rudisill said.

“While we could not publish some results due to confidentiality concerns in the published manuscript, we definitely saw a relationship between alcohol and/or drug use and injury severity,” she said. “Those who were under the influence definitely sustained the most severe injuries such as partial or full amputations.

“Since there has been a trend among states to liberalize these laws, I think it is wise for states who may be looking to follow suit to consider the ramifications.  If these products are more available, it increases people’s exposure and their likelihood of injuries– not just to children but to adults as well.”

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