8 weird, cool, and downright dangerous facts about fireworks for your Fourth of July.

In the eyes of many Americans, the Fourth of July is a day for parades, barbecue and, of course, fireworks.

But why is it that we celebrate Independence Day with explosives?

The tradition got its start at the beginning of our nation's history after the Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia to write and sign the Declaration of Independence.


A day after the Second Continental Congress approved the declaration on July 4, 1776, John Adams — soon to be the second U.S. president — penned a letter to his wife Abigail, declaring that Independence Day "ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more."

Image by Stephanie McCabe/Unsplash.

One year later, in 1777, Philadelphia celebrated the anniversary with fireworks (which Adams dubbed "illuminations") plus a parade.

But while their American origin story is interesting, that's not all when it comes to forgotten or overlooked facts about fireworks. Before you head to the backyard barbecue to set off a few with the fam, brush up on your fireworks facts to impress your friends.

1. Currently, Americans are shooting off almost one pound of fireworks each year for every person.

This figure has grown rapidly from half a pound in 2000. In 1976, the United States' bicentennial, the figure was just one-tenth of a pound annually.

Image by The Conversation. Source: American Pyrotechnics Association.

One reason for the big increase is a steady reduction in state prohibitions against individuals using fireworks.

2. Fireworks are allowed in Iowa — but they can only be exploded on the few days around the Fourth of July, Christmas, and New Year's Eve.

It's one of the more recent states to allow fireworks, but you'd better read the fine print before setting off a display in the off-season!

3. By 2016, professional displays comprised less than 10% of total fireworks usage.

Because states are now permitting individuals to purchase and possess fireworks, there has been a large shift from professional to amateur use. Back in 2000, roughly one-third of all fireworks hurled into the sky were done for professional displays, the kind that light the skies of cities around the world on holidays like New Year's Eve and national celebrations.

Photo by Ryan Wong/Unsplash.

4. In 1996 it cost about $1.34 (in today's dollars) to import one pound of fireworks. By 2016 the price had fallen to just $1.17 a pound.

That also means, pound for pound, fireworks are about half the price of the frankfurters many people are grilling this Fourth.

Image by The Conversation. Source: American Pyrotechnics Association.

5. Back in 1986, fireworks injured about 6.6 out of every 100,000 people. In 2008, the rate was down to 2.3 people.

Since 1986, injuries have steadily fallen as government regulations made them safer.

6. But as states have relaxed restrictions, the injuries have started increasing again. The latest figures for 2016 show a rate of 3.4 people per 100,000.

Beyond such statistics, however low, every year there are horrible stories of both children and adults being injured and killed. So it's always important to exercise caution when lighting what amounts to a low-yield missile.

Image by The Conversation. Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission.

7. Now, fireworks are required to meet higher safety standards.

One reason that injury rates have fallen in the first place is because of the federal government's Consumer Product Safety Commission. It banned the sale of the most dangerous fireworks, like M-80s and cherry bombs, in the 1960s.

Today, it is working to lower injury rates again by requiring manufacturers to adhere to higher standards. For example, faulty fuses have caused many injuries by burning either too quickly or too slowly.

Which is why ...

8. All fireworks fuses are now required to ignite three to nine seconds after being lit.

The commission also now requires fireworks to have bases that are wider and support more weight so they do not tip over and fire horizontally.

It also now bans hazardous materials like lead from the powder inside fireworks so that people downwind from the explosions don't get poisoned by breathing the smoke.

Image by The Conversation. Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission.

As more states allow fireworks this Fourth of July, millions more people celebrate by shooting off "illuminations."

But if you do plan to light a few rockets or more advanced fireworks, use some common sense, especially if children are around.

Whether you are lighting fireworks, watching them explode above you, or just hiding from the noise, try to have a fun and safe Independence Day!

Jay L. Zagorsky is an economist and research scientist at Ohio State University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Update 7/5/2018: The previous version of this story was altered as to fireworks laws that had changed since it's first original publication.  

<img src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/80181/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-advanced" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" />

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less