Independence Day is the busiest holiday for sales of consumer fireworks. But the devices that are legal to buy and set off vary by state. So here's a guide to knowing what's legal, and how to stay safe around fireworks.
In Pennsylvania, state law says residents are only permitted to set off small, ground-based "novelty" fireworks like sparklers and toy caps. Fireworks like Roman candles, firecrackers and cherry bombs are all illegal. However, Pennsylvania fireworks stores can sell a full slate of the more powerful products -- but only to out-of-state shoppers.
That policy doesn't do much good for New Jersey and Delaware fireworks fans. Both states ban the sale and use of all consumer fireworks. Those states, along with Massachusetts and New York, are the only ones in the country that don't allow sales of at least some types of fireworks.
Of course, fireworks buyers have been crossing state lines to buy their goods for years.
But law enforcement officials know this, too. The New Jersey Attorney General's Office is warning consumers that fireworks are illegal in the state and violators could be charged with a disorderly persons offense.
On the Facebook page for Phantom Fireworks, which has locations nationwide, one fan alerts shoppers who want to cross from Pennsylvania into New Jersey or New York: "Watch out for police outside these stores ... they will follow you straight to the border and pull you over."
Retailers, law enforcement on alert
Besides trying to catch those attempting to skirt state laws, law enforcement officials may put extra scrutiny on fireworks buyers this year for another reason. An advisory from the National Explosives Task Force issued last week warns sellers that consumer fireworks area a "common component used in improvised explosive devices," USA Today reports. The notice comes in the wake of the April bombings at the Boston Marathon, for which the alleged bombers are accused of purchasing explosive powder from a fireworks store.
Federal authorities are advising retailers to watch out for suspicious activity like customers who ask about taking apart or modifying fireworks, according to USA Today.
Between June 22 and July 22 last year, more than 5,000 people were treated in emergency rooms nationwide for fireworks-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most of those injuries involved malfunctioning devices or improper use.
Whether you're using sparklers at home or vacationing in an area where you can shoot off more powerful fireworks, here's how to avoid spending the Fourth of July in the ER, according to the National Council on Fireworks Safety:
- Only use fireworks outsdoors.
- Keep water nearby.
- Don't let young children handle fireworks, and closely supervise teenagers who are using them.
- Wear safety glasses.
- Don't drink alcohol if you are handling fireworks.
- Don't re-light a "dud." Wait 20 minutes, then soak the non-working firework in water.
- Avoid homemade fireworks.
- Soak used fireworks in water before putting them in a garbage can.
- Never throw sparklers.
- Only light one sparkler at a time.