Fireworks are a class of low explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display (also called a fireworks show or pyrotechnics), a display of the effects produced by firework devices. Fireworks competitions are also regularly held at a number of places.
Fireworks take many forms to produce the four primary effects: noise, light, smoke, and floating materials (confetti for example). They may be designed to burn with colored flames and sparks including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and silver. Displays are common throughout the world and are the focal point of many cultural and religious celebrations.
Fireworks were invented in ancient China in the 7th century to scare away evil spirits, as a natural extension of the Four Great Inventions of ancient China of gunpowder. Such important events and festivities as Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival were and still are times when fireworks are guaranteed sights. China is the largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks in the world.
Fireworks are generally classified as to where they perform, either as a ground or aerial firework. In the latter case they may provide their own propulsion (skyrocket) or be shot into the air by a mortar (aerial shell).
The most common feature of fireworks is a paper or pasteboard tube or casing filled with the combustible material, often pyrotechnic stars. A number of these tubes or cases are often combined so as to make, when kindled, a great variety of sparkling shapes, often variously colored. The skyrocket is a common form of firework, although the first skyrockets were used in war. The aerial shell, however, is the backbone of today's commercial aerial display, and a smaller version for consumer use is known as the festival ball in the United States. Such rocket technology has also been used for the delivery of mail by rocket and is used as propulsion for most model rockets.
The earliest documentation of fireworks dates back to 7th century China (time of the Tang Dynasty), where they were invented. The fireworks were used to accompany many festivities. It is thus a part of the culture of China and had its origin there; eventually it spread to other cultures and societies. The art and science of firework making has developed into an independent profession. In China, pyrotechnicians were respected for their knowledge of complex techniques in mounting firework displays. Chinese people originally believed that the fireworks could expel evil spirits and bring about luck and happiness.
During the Song Dynasty (960–1279), many of the common people could purchase various kinds of fireworks from market vendors, and grand displays of fireworks were also known to be held. In 1110, a large fireworks display in a martial demonstration was held to entertain Emperor Huizong of Song (r. 1100–1125) and his court. A record from 1264 states that a rocket-propelled firework went off near the Empress Dowager Gong Sheng and startled her during a feast held in her honor by her son Emperor Lizong of Song (r. 1224–1264). Rocket propulsion was common in warfare, as evidenced by the Huolongjing compiled by Liu Bowen (1311–1375) and Jiao Yu (fl. c. 1350–1412). In 1240 the Arabs acquired knowledge of gunpowder and its uses from China. A Syrian named Hasan al-Rammah wrote of rockets, fireworks, and other incendiaries, using terms that suggested he derived his knowledge from Chinese sources, such as his references to fireworks as "Chinese flowers".
With the development of chinoiserie in Europe, Chinese fireworks began to gain popularity around the mid-17th century. Lev Izmailov, ambassador of Peter the Great, once reported from China: "They make such fireworks that no one in Europe has ever seen." In 1758, the Jesuit missionary Pierre Nicolas le Chéron d'Incarville, living in Beijing, wrote about the methods and composition on how to make many types of Chinese fireworks to the Paris Academy of Sciences, which revealed and published the account five years later. His writings would be translated in 1765, resulting in the popularization of fireworks and further attempts to uncover the secrets of Chinese fireworks.
Amédée-François Frézier published his revised work Traité des feux d'artice pour le spectacle (Treatise on Fireworks) in 1747 (originally 1706), covering the recreational and ceremonial uses of fireworks, rather than their military uses.
Improper use of fireworks may be dangerous, both to the person operating them (risks of burns and wounds) and to bystanders; in addition, they may start fires after landing on flammable material. For this reason, the use of fireworks is generally legally restricted. Display fireworks are restricted by law for use by professionals; consumer items, available to the public, are smaller versions containing limited amounts of explosive material to reduce potential danger.
Fireworks are also a problem for animals, both domestic and wild, who can be terrified by their noise, leading to them running away, often into danger, or hurting themselves on fences or in other ways in an attempt to escape.
Pyrotechnical competitions involving fireworks are held in many countries. One of the most prestigious fireworks competition is the Montreal Fireworks Festival, an annual competition held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Another magnificent competition is Le Festival d'Art Pyrotechnique held in the summer annually at the Bay of Cannes in Côte d'Azur, France. The World Pyro Olympics is an annual competition amongst the top fireworks companies in the world. It is held in Manila, Philippines. The event is one of the largest and most intense international fireworks competitions.
Fireworks World Records
The current Guinness World Records as of 30 November 2014 are:
Largest firework display of all time
Svea Fireworks and Sør-Tre officially set the new world record for the most fireworks ignited during a single coordinated display, on November 29, 2014, in the small town of Søgne, Norway. Hailed as a "tribute to the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution", the display incorporated 540,382 individual firework effects in a spectacular 90 minute show. Guinness World Record adjudicators were on hand to confirm the breaking of the previous record held by Dubai.
Largest Catherine wheel
A self-propelled vertical firework wheel was designed by The Lily Fireworks Factory and fired for at least one revolution on the eve of the annual festival of Our Lady Of The Lilies. The Lily Fireworks Factory, Mqabba, Malta currently possesses this record, burning a Catherine Wheel with a diameter of 32.044 m (105 ft 1.6 in), on June 18, 2011.
Longest firework waterfall
Most firework rockets launched in 30 seconds
Largest firework rocket
The largest firework rocket weighed 13.40 kg (29.5 lb) and was produced and launched by Associação Nacional de Empresas de Produtos Explosivos (Portugal) at the 12th International Symposium on Fireworks in Oporto and Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal, on October 13, 2010.
The largest bonfire had an overall volume of 1,401.6 m³ (49,497 ft³). The bonfire was built by Colin Furze (UK) in Thistleton, Leicestershire, UK, and lit on 14 October 2006.
The world's tallest bonfire tondo measured 37.5 m (123 ft) high, with a base of 8 m² (86 ft²) and an overall volume of 800 m³ (28,251 ft³). The event was organized by Kure Commemorative Centennial Events Committee, and lit on 9 February 2003 at Gohara-cho, Hiroshima, Japan, as part of a traditional ceremony to encourage good health and a generous harvest.
Enthusiasts in the United States have formed clubs which unite hobbyists and professionals. The groups provide safety instruction and organize meetings and private "shoots" at remote premises where members shoot commercial fireworks as well as fire pieces of their own manufacture. Clubs secure permission to fire items otherwise banned by state or local ordinances. Competition among members and between clubs, demonstrating everything from single shells to elaborate displays choreographed to music, are held. One of the oldest clubs is Crackerjacks, Inc., organized in 1976 in the Eastern Seaboard region of the U.S.
PGI annual convention
The Pyrotechnics Guild International, Inc. or PGI, founded in 1969, is an independent worldwide nonprofit organization of amateur and professional fireworks enthusiasts. It is notable for its large number of members, around 3,500 in total. The PGI exists solely to further the safe usage and enjoyment of both professional grade and consumer grade fireworks while both advancing the art and craft of pyrotechnics and preserving its historical aspects. Each August the PGI conducts its annual week-long convention, where some the world's biggest and best fireworks displays occur. Vendors, competitors, and club members come from around the US and from various parts of the globe to enjoy the show and to help out at this all-volunteer event. Aside from the nightly firework shows, the competition is a highlight of the convention. This is a completely unique event where individual classes of hand-built fireworks are competitively judged, ranging from simple fireworks rockets to extremely large and complex aerial shells. Some of the biggest, best, most intricate fireworks displays in the United States take place during the convention week.
Amateur and professional members can come to the convention to purchase fireworks, paper goods, novelty items, non-explosive chemical components and much more at the PGI trade show. Before the nightly fireworks displays and competitions, club members have a chance to enjoy open shooting of any and all legal consumer or professional grade fireworks, as well as testing and display of hand-built fireworks. The week ends with the Grand Public Display on Friday night, which gives the chosen display company a chance to strut their stuff in front of some of the world's biggest fireworks aficionados. The stakes are high and much planning is put into the show. In 1994 a shell of 36 inches (910 mm) in diameter was fired during the convention, more than twice as large as the largest shell usually seen in the US, and shells as large as 24 inches (610 mm) are frequently fired.
In the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland there are many fireworks displays, during the Halloween season. The largest are in the cities of Belfast, Derry and Dublin. The 2010 Derry Halloween fireworks attracted an audience of over 20,000 people. The sale of fireworks is strongly restricted in the Republic of Ireland, though many illegal fireworks are sold throughout October or smuggled from Northern Ireland. In the Republic the maximum punishment for possessing fireworks without a licence, or lighting fireworks in a public place, is a €10,000 fine and a five-year prison sentence.
Both fireworks and firecrackers are a popular tradition during Halloween in Vancouver, although apparently this is not the custom elsewhere in Canada. Two firework displays on All Hallows' Eve in the United States are the annual "Happy Hallowishes" show at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party" event, which began in 2005, and the "Halloween Screams" at Disneyland Park, which began in 2009.
Fireworks celebrations throughout the world
America's earliest settlers brought their enthusiasm for fireworks to the United States. Fireworks and black ash were used to celebrate important events long before the American Revolutionary War. The very first celebration of Independence Day was in 1777, six years before Americans knew whether the new nation would survive the war; fireworks were a part of all festivities. In 1789, George Washington's inauguration was also accompanied by a fireworks display. This early fascination with their noise and color continues today.
In 2004, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, pioneered the commercial use of aerial fireworks launched with compressed air rather than gunpowder. The display shell explodes in the air using an electronic timer. The advantages of compressed air launch are a reduction in fumes, and much greater accuracy in height and timing.
The Walt Disney Company is the largest consumer of fireworks in the United States.
Indians throughout the world celebrate with fireworks as part of their popular "festival of lights" (Diwali) in Oct-Nov every year.
The Singapore Fireworks Celebrations (previously the Singapore Fireworks Festival) is an annual event held in Singapore as part of its National Day celebrations. The festival features local and foreign teams which launch displays on different nights. While currently non-competitive in nature, the organizer has plans to introduce a competitive element in the future.
The annual festival has grown in magnitude, from 4,000 rounds used in 2004, 6,000 in 2005, to over 9,100 in 2006.
During the summer in Japan, fireworks festivals (花火大会 hanabi taikai) are held nearly everyday someplace in the country, in total numbering more than 200 during August. The festivals consist of large fireworks shows, the largest of which use between 100,000 and 120,000 rounds (Tondabayashi, Osaka), and can attract more than 800,000 spectators. Street vendors set up stalls to sell various drinks and staple Japanese food (such as Yakisoba, Okonomiyaki, Takoyaki, kakigori (shaved ice)), and traditionally held festival games, such as Kingyo-sukui, or Goldfish scooping.
Even today, men and women attend these events wearing the traditional Yukata, summer Kimono, or Jinbei (men only), collecting in large social circles of family or friends to sit picnic-like, eating and drinking, while watching the show.
One of the biggest occasions for fireworks in the UK is Guy Fawkes Night held each year on 5 November, while the biggest in Northern Ireland takes place at Halloween. Guy Fawkes Night is a celebration of the foiling of the Catholic Gunpowder Plot on 5 November 1605, an attempt to kill King James I.
- Battel Bonfire in Battle, East Sussex homepage
- After Dark fireworks, Sheffield homepage
- Sparks in the Park (Cardiff Round Table charity fireworks), Cardiff homepage
- Flaming Tar Barrels, Ottery St Mary homepage
- Blackheath Fireworks, London homepage
- Fireworks with Vikings, Tutbury, Staffordshire homepage
- Bangers on the Beach (Holyhead Round Table charity fireworks), Holyhead homepage
- Bught Park fireworks, Inverness homepage
- Glasgow Green fireworks homepage
- Halloween Happening fireworks, Derry homepage
- Midsummer Common, Cambridge homepage
Fireworks have been used in Malta for hundreds of years. When the islands were ruled by the Order of St John, fireworks were used on special occasions such as the election of a new Grand Master, the appointment of a new Pope or the birth of a prince.
Monte-Carlo International Fireworks Festival
Pyrotechnics experts from around the world have competed in Monte Carlo, Monaco since 1966. The festival runs from July to August every year, and the winner returns in November 18 for the fireworks display on the night before the National Day of Monaco. The event is held in Port Hercule, beginning at around 9:30pm every night, depending on the sunset.
Uses other than public displays
In addition to large public displays, people often buy small amounts of fireworks for their own celebrations. Fireworks on general sale are usually less powerful than professional fireworks. Types include firecrackers, rockets, cakes (multishot aerial fireworks) and smoke balls.
Fireworks can also be used in an agricultural capacity as bird scarers.
Colors in fireworks are usually generated by pyrotechnic stars—usually just called stars—which produce intense light when ignited. Stars contain five basic types of ingredients.
- A fuel which allows the star to burn
- An oxidizer—a compound which produces (usually) oxygen to support the combustion of the fuel
- Color-producing chemicals
- A binder which holds the pellet together.
- A chlorine donor which provides chlorine to strengthen the color of the flame. Sometimes the oxidizer can serve this purpose.
Some of the more common color-producing compounds are tabulated here. The color of a compound in a firework will be the same as its color in a flame test (shown at right). Not all compounds that produce a colored flame are appropriate for coloring fireworks, however. Ideal colorants will produce a pure, intense color when present in moderate concentration.
|Red|| Strontium (intense red)
Lithium (medium red)
|SrCO3 (strontium carbonate)|
|Orange||Calcium||CaCl2 (calcium chloride)|
|Yellow||Sodium||NaNO3 (sodium nitrate)|
|Green||Barium||BaCl2 (barium chloride)|
|Blue||Copper halides||CuCl2 (copper chloride), at low temperature|
|Indigo||Cesium||CsNO3 (cesium nitrate)|
| KNO3 (potassium nitrate)
RbNO3 (rubidium nitrate)
|Gold||Charcoal, iron, or lampblack|
|White||Titanium, aluminium, beryllium, or magnesium powders|
The brightest stars, often called Mag Stars, are fueled by aluminium. Magnesium is rarely used in the fireworks industry due to its lack of ability to form a protective oxide layer. Often an alloy of both metals called magnalium is used.
Many of the chemicals used in the manufacture of fireworks are non-toxic, while many more have some degree of toxicity, can cause skin sensitivity, or exist in dust form and are thereby inhalation hazards. Still others are poisons if directly ingested or inhaled.
Abstract reference of chemicals used in fireworks industry
The following table is an educational guideline for the chemistry of fireworks.
||Aluminium||Aluminium is used to produce silver and white flames and sparks. It is a common component of sparklers.|
||Barium||Barium is used to create green colors in fireworks, and it can also help stabilize other volatile elements.|
|Carbon||Carbon is one of the main components of black powder, which is used as a propellent in fireworks. Carbon provides the fuel for a firework. Common forms include carbon black, sugar, or starch.|
|Calcium||Calcium is used to deepen firework colors. Calcium salts produce orange fireworks.|
|Chlorine||Chlorine is an important component of many oxidizers in fireworks. Several of the metal salts that produce colors contain chlorine.|
|Cesium||Cesium compounds help to oxidize firework mixtures. Cesium compounds produce an indigo color in fireworks.|
|Copper||Copper compounds produce blue colors in fireworks.|
|Iron||Iron is used to produce sparks. The heat of the metal determines the color of the sparks.|
|Potassium||Potassium compounds help to oxidize firework mixtures. Potassium nitrate, potassium chlorate, and potassium perchlorate are all important oxidizers. The potassium content can impart a violet color to the sparks.|
|Lithium||Lithium is a metal that is used to impart a red color to fireworks. Lithium carbonate, in particular, is a common colorant.|
|Magnesium||Magnesium burns a very bright white, so it is used to add white sparks or improve the overall brilliance of a firework.|
|Sodium||Sodium imparts a gold or yellow color to fireworks, however, the color is often so bright that it frequently masks other, less intense colors.|
|Oxygen||Fireworks include oxidizers, which are substances that produce oxygen in order for burning to occur. The oxidizers are usually nitrates, chlorates, or perchlorates. Sometimes the same substance is used to provide oxygen and color.|
|Phosphorus||Phosphorus burns spontaneously in air and is also responsible for some glow in the dark effects. It may be a component of a firework's fuel.|
|Radium||Radium would create intense green colors in fireworks, but it is far too hazardous to use.|
|Rubidium||Rubidium compounds help to oxidize firework mixtures. Rubidium compounds produce a violet-red color in fireworks.|
|Sulfur||Sulfur is a component of black powder, and as such, it is found in a firework's propellant/fuel.|
|Antimony||Antimony is used to create firework glitter effects.|
|Strontium||Strontium salts impart a red color to fireworks. Strontium compounds are also important for stabilizing fireworks mixtures.|
|Titanium||Titanium metal can be burned as powder or flakes to produce silver sparks.|
|Zinc||Zinc is a bluish white metal that is used to create smoke effects for fireworks and other pyrotechnic devices.|
Types of effects
A spherical break of colored stars that burn without a tail effect. The peony is the most commonly seen shell type.
A spherical break of colored stars, similar to a peony, but with stars that leave a visible trail of sparks.
Essentially the same as a peony shell, but with fewer and larger stars. These stars travel a longer-than-usual distance from the shell break before burning out. For instance, if a 3" peony shell is made with a star size designed for a 6" shell, it is then considered a dahlia. Some dahlia shells are cylindrical rather than spherical to allow for larger stars.
Similar to a chrysanthemum, but with long-burning silver or gold stars that produce a soft, dome-shaped weeping willow-like effect.
A shell containing a relatively few large comet stars arranged in such a way as to burst with large arms or tendrils, producing a palm tree-like effect. Proper palm shells feature a thick rising tail that displays as the shell ascends, thereby simulating the tree trunk to further enhance the "palm tree" effect. One might also see a burst of color inside the palm burst (given by a small insert shell) to simulate coconuts.
A shell with stars specially arranged so as to create a ring. Variations include smiley faces, hearts, and clovers.
A type of Peony or Chrysanthemum with a center cluster of non-moving stars, normally of a contrasting color or effect.
Kamuro is a Japanese word meaning "Boys Haircut" which is what this shell looks like when fully exploded in the air. A dense burst of glittering silver or gold stars which leave a heavy glitter trail and are very shiny in the night's sky.
A shell containing several large stars that travel a short distance before breaking apart into smaller stars, creating a crisscrossing grid-like effect. Strictly speaking, a crossette star should split into 4 pieces which fly off symmetrically, making a cross. Once limited to silver or gold effects, colored crossettes such as red, green, or white are now very common.
A shell containing a fast burning tailed or charcoal star that is burst very hard so that the stars travel in a straight and flat trajectory before slightly falling and burning out. This appears in the sky as a series of radial lines much like the legs of a spider.
Named for the shape of its break, this shell features heavy long-burning tailed stars that only travel a short distance from the shell burst before free-falling to the ground. Also known as a waterfall shell. Sometimes there is a glittering through the "waterfall."
An effect created by large, slow-burning stars within a shell that leave a trail of large glittering sparks behind and make a sizzling noise. The "time" refers to the fact that these stars burn away gradually, as opposed to the standard brocade "rain" effect where a large amount of glitter material is released at once.
A large shell containing several smaller shells of various sizes and types. The initial burst scatters the shells across the sky before they explode. Also called a bouquet shell. When a shell contains smaller shells of the same size and type, the effect is usually referred to as "Thousands". Very large bouquet shells (up to 48 inches) are frequently used in Japan.
Inserts that propel themselves rapidly away from the shell burst, often looking like fish swimming away.
A shell intended to produce a loud report rather than a visual effect. Salute shells usually contain flash powder, producing a quick flash followed by a very loud report. Titanium may be added to the flash powder mix to produce a cloud of bright sparks around the flash. Salutes are commonly used in large quantities during finales to create intense noise and brightness. They are often cylindrical in shape to allow for a larger payload of flash powder, but ball shapes are common and cheaper as well. Salutes are also called Maroons.
A mine (aka. pot à feu) is a ground firework that expels stars and/or other garnitures into the sky. Shot from a mortar like a shell, a mine consists of a canister with the lift charge on the bottom with the effects placed on top. Mines can project small reports, serpents, small shells, as well as just stars. Although mines up to 12 inches in diameter appear on occasion, they are usually between 3 and 5 inches in diameter.
A Roman candle is a long tube containing several large stars which fire at a regular interval. These are commonly arranged in fan shapes or crisscrossing shapes, at a closer proximity to the audience. Some larger Roman candles contain small shells (bombettes) rather than stars.
A cake is a cluster of individual tubes linked by fuse that fires a series of aerial effects. Tube diameters can range in size from ¼ inch to 4 inches, and a single cake can have over 1,000 shots. The variety of effects within individual cakes is often such that they defy descriptive titles and are instead given cryptic names such as "Bermuda Triangle", "Pyro Glyphics", "Waco Wakeup", and "Poisonous Spider", to name a few. Others are simply quantities of 2.5"-4" shells fused together in single-shot tubes.
Bangs and report
The bang is the most common effect in fireworks and sounds like a gunshot, technically called a report.
The firework produces a crackling sound.
Tiny tube fireworks that are ejected into the air spinning with such force that they shred their outer coating, in doing so they whizz and hum.
High pitched often very loud screaming and screeching created by the resonance of gas. This is caused by a very fast strobing (on/off burning stage) of the fuel. The rapid bursts of gas from the fuel vibrate the air many hundreds of times per second causing the familiar whistling sound. It is not - as is commonly thought - made in the conventional way that musical instruments are using specific tube shapes or apertures. Common whistle fuels contain Benzoate or Salicylate compounds and a suitable oxidizer such as Potassium Perchlorate.
Hazards and regulation
Fireworks pose risks of injury to people, and of damage, largely as a fire hazard.
Fireworks produce smoke and dust that may contain residues of heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds and some low concentration toxic chemicals. These by-products of fireworks combustion will vary depending on the mix of ingredients of a particular firework. (The color green, for instance, may be produced by adding the various compounds and salts of Barium, some of which are toxic, and some of which are not.) Some fisherman have noticed and reported to environmental authorities that firework residues can hurt fish and other water-life because some may contain toxic compounds such as antimony sulfide. This is a subject of much debate due to the fact that large-scale pollution from other sources makes it difficult to measure the amount of pollution that comes specifically from fireworks. The possible toxicity of any fallout may also be affected by the amount of black powder used, type of oxidizer, colors produced and launch method.
Fireworks have also been noted as a source of perchlorate in lakes. The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's Richard Wilkin and colleagues, have conducted research on the use of pyrotechnic devices over bodies of water noting concerns over the effects of environmental perchlorate on human health and wildlife. Sources of perchlorate range from lightning and certain fertilizers to the perchlorate compounds in rocket fuel and explosives. Scientists long suspected community fireworks displays were another source, but few studies had been done on the topic. Wilkin's group has now established fireworks displays as a source of perchlorate contamination by analyzing water in an Oklahoma lake before and after fireworks displays in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Within 14 hours after the fireworks, perchlorate levels rose 24 to 1,028 times above background levels. Levels peaked about 24 hours after the display, and then decreased to the pre-fireworks background within 20- to 80 days. The study is detailed in the June 1, 2007 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology. (Environ. Sci. Technol., 2007, 41 (11), pp 3966–3971)
Perchlorate, a type of salt in its solid form, dissolves and moves rapidly in groundwater and surface water. Even in low concentrations in drinking water supplies, perchlorate is known to inhibit the uptake of iodine by the thyroid gland. While there are currently no federal drinking water standards for perchlorate, some states have established public health goals, or action levels, and some are in the process of establishing state maximum contaminant levels. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency have studied the impacts of perchlorate on the environment as well as drinking water. California has also issued guidance regarding perchlorate use.
Several US states have enacted drinking water standard for perchlorate including Massachusetts in 2006. California's legislature enacted AB 826, the Perchlorate Contamination Prevention Act of 2003, requiring California's Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) to adopt regulations specifying best management practices for perchlorate and perchlorate-containing substances. The Perchlorate Best Management Practices were adopted on December 31, 2005 and became operative on July 1, 2006. California issued drinking water standards in 2007. Several other states, including Arizona, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Texas have established non-enforceable, advisory levels for perchlorate.
The courts have also taken action with regard to perchlorate contamination. For example, in 2003, a federal district court in California found that Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) applied because perchlorate is ignitable and therefore a "characteristic" hazardous waste. (see Castaic Lake Water Agency v. Whittaker, 272 F. Supp. 2d 1053, 1059-61 (C.D. Cal. 2003)).
Pollutants from fireworks raise concerns because of potential health risks associated with hazardous by-products. For most people the effects of exposure to low levels of toxins from many sources over long periods are unknown. For persons with asthma or multiple chemical sensitivity the smoke from fireworks may aggravate existing health problems. Environmental pollution is also a concern because heavy metals and other chemicals from fireworks may contaminate water supplies and because fireworks combustion gases might contribute to such things as acid rain which can cause vegetation and even property damage. However, gunpowder smoke and the solid residues are basic, and as such the net effect of fireworks on acid rain is debatable. The carbon used in fireworks is produced from wood and does not lead to more carbon dioxide in the air. What is not disputed is that most consumer fireworks leave behind a considerable amount of solid debris, including both readily biodegradable components as well as nondegradable plastic items. Concerns over pollution, consumer safety, and debris have restricted the sale and use of consumer fireworks in many countries. Professional displays, on the other hand, remain popular around the world.
Others argue that alleged concern over pollution from fireworks constitutes a red herring, since the amount of contamination from fireworks is minuscule in comparison to emissions from sources such as the burning of fossil fuels. In the US some states and local governments restrict the use of fireworks in accordance with the Clean Air Act which allows laws relating to the prevention and control of outdoor air pollution to be enacted. Few governmental entities, by contrast, effectively limit pollution from burning fossil fuels such as diesel fuel or coal. Coal fueled electricity generation alone is a much greater source of heavy metal contamination in the environment than fireworks.
The use, storage and sale of commercial-grade fireworks in Canada is licensed by Natural Resources Canada's Explosive Regulatory Division (ERD). Unlike their consumer counterpart, commercial-grade fireworks function differently, and come in a wide range of sizes from 50 mm (2 inches) up to 300 mm (12 inches) or more in diameter. Commercial grade fireworks require a fireworks supervisors card, obtained from the ERD by completing a one-day safety course. There are 3 levels, Apprentice, which allows you to work under a qualified supervisor until you are familiar with the basics. Then Supervisor level 1, which allows you to independently use and fire most commercial grade pyrotechnics. Finally Supervisor level 2 expands on that, allowing firing from barges, bridges, rooftops and over unusual sites. Since commercial-grade fireworks are shells which are loaded into separate mortars by hand, there is danger in every stage of the setup. Setup of these fireworks involves the placement and securing of mortars on wooden or wire racks; loading of the shells; and if electronically firing, wiring and testing. The mortars are generally made of FRE (Fiber-Reinforced Epoxy) or HDPE (High-Density Polyethelene), some older mortars are made of Sheet Steel, but have been banned by most countries due to the problem of shrapnel produced during a misfire.
Setup of mortars in Canada for an oblong firing site require that a mortar be configured at an angle of 10 to 15 degrees down-range with a safety distance of at least 200 meters down-range and 100 meters surrounding the mortars, plus distance adjustments for wind speed and direction. In June 2007, the ERD approved circular firing sites for use with vertically fired mortars with a safety distance of at least 175 meter radius, plus distance adjustments for wind speed and direction.
Loading of shells is a delicate process, and must be done with caution, and a loader must ensure not only the mortar is clean, but also make sure that no part of their body is directly over the mortar in case of a premature fire. Wiring the shells is a painstaking process; whether the shells are being fired manually or electronically, any "chain fusing" or wiring of electrical ignitors, care must be taken to prevent the fuse (an electrical match, often incorrectly called a squib) from igniting. If the setup is wired electrically, the electrical matches are usually plugged into a "firing rail" or "breakout box" which runs back to the main firing board; from there, the Firing Board is simply hooked up to a car battery, and can proceed with firing the show when ready.
Since commercial-grade fireworks are so much larger and more powerful, setup and firing crews are always under great pressure to ensure they safely set up, fire, and clean up after a show.
The United States government has classified fireworks and similar devices according to their potential hazards.
Current explosives classes
The U.S. government now uses the United Nations explosives shipping classification system, which is based on hazard in shipping only, while the old US system also covered use hazards. The BATFE and most states performed a direct substitution of Shipping Class 1.3 for Class B, and Shipping Class 1.4 for Class C. This allows some hazardous items that would have previously been classified as Class B and regulated to be classified as Shipping Class 1.4 due to some packaging method that confines any explosion to the package. Being Shipping Class 1.4, they can now be sold to the general public and are unregulated by the BATF.
A code number and suffix (such as 1.3G) is not enough to fully describe a material and how it is regulated, especially in Shipping Class 1.4G. It also must have a UN Number that exactly describes the material. For example, common consumer fireworks are UN0336, or Shipping Class 1.4G UN0336.
Here are some common fireworks classes:
- Class 1.1G (Mass Explosion Possible:Pyrotechnics) UN0094 Flashpowder
- Class 1.1G (Mass Explosion Possible:Pyrotechnics) UN0333 Fireworks (Salutes in bulk or in manufacture)
- Class 1.2G (Projection but not mass explosion:Pyrotechnics) UN0334 Fireworks (Rarely used)
- Class 1.3G (Fire, Minor Blast:Pyrotechnics) UN0335 Fireworks (Most Display Fireworks) Current federal law states that without appropriate ATF license/permit, the possession or sale of any display/professional fireworks is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
- Any ground salute device with over 50 milligrams of explosive composition
- Torpedoes (except for railroad signaling use)
- Multi-tube devices containing over 500 grams of pyrotechnic composition and without 1/2" space between each tube
- Any multiple tube fountains with over 500 grams of pyrotechnic composition and without 1/2" space between each tube
- Any reloadable aerial shells over 1.75" diameter
- Display shells
- Any single-shot or reloadable aerial shell/mine/comet/tube with over 60 grams of pyrotechnic composition
- Any Roman candle or rocket with over 20 grams of pyrotechnic composition
- Any aerial salute with over 130 milligrams of explosive composition
- Class 1.4G (Minor Explosion Hazard Confined To Package:Pyrotechnics) UN0336 Fireworks (Consumer or Common Fireworks) Most popular consumer fireworks sold in the US.
- Reloadable aerial shells 1.75" or less sold in a box with not more than 12 shells and one launching tube
- Single-shot aerial tubes
- Bottle rockets
- Skyrockets and missiles
- Ground spinners, pinwheels and helicopters
- Flares & fountains
- Roman candles
- Smoke and novelty items
- Multi-shot aerial devices, or "cakes"
- Firecracker packs (see this link for various brand/label images). Although some firecracker items may be called "M-80's", "M-1000's", "Cherry bombs" or "Silver Salutes" by the manufacturer, they must contain less than 50 milligrams of flash or other explosive powder in order to be legally sold to consumers in the United States.
- Catherine wheel
- black snakes and strobes
- Class 1.4S (Minor Explosion Hazard Confined To Package: Packed As To Not Hinder Nearby Firefighters) UN0336 Fireworks (Consumer or Common Fireworks)
- Class 1.4G (Minor Explosion Hazard Confined To Package:Pyrotechnics) UN0431 ARTICLES, PYROTECHNIC for technical purposes (Proximate Pyrotechnics)
- Class 1.4S (Minor Explosion Hazard Confined To Package: Packed As To Not Hinder Nearby Firefighters) UN0432 ARTICLES, PYROTECHNIC for technical purposes (Proximate Pyrotechnics)
Fireworks tubes are made by rolling thick paper tightly around a former, such as a dowel. They can be made by hand, most firework factories use machinery to manufacture tubes. Whenever tubes are used in fireworks, at least one end is always plugged with clay to keep both chemicals and burning gases from escaping through that end. The tooling is always made of non-sparking materials such as aluminium or brass. Experts at handling explosives, called pyrotechnicians, add chemicals for special effects.
Previous US DOT explosives classifications
Explosives, including fireworks, were previously divided into three classifications for transportation purposes by the US Department of Transportation (DOT).
- Class A explosives included high explosives such as dynamite, TNT, blasting caps, packages of flash powder, bulk packages of black powder and blasting agents such as ANFO and other slurry types of explosives.
- Class B explosives included low explosives such as "display fireworks" which were the larger and more powerful fireworks used at most public displays.
- Class C explosives included other low explosives such as igniters, fuses and "common fireworks", which were the smaller and less powerful fireworks available for sale to and use by the general public.
At the time most purchases and use of all of these explosives, with specific exceptions for high explosives purchased and used in state, black powder used for sporting purposes and common fireworks, required a license or permit to purchase and use from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF or BATFE), or the state, or a local authority.
Consumer fireworks safety
Availability and use of consumer fireworks are hotly debated topics. Critics and safety advocates point to the numerous injuries and accidental fires that are attributed to fireworks as justification for banning or at least severely restricting access to fireworks. Complaints about excessive noise created by fireworks and the large amounts of debris and fallout left over after shooting are also used to support this position. There are numerous incidents of consumer fireworks being used in a manner that is supposedly disrespectful of the communities and neighborhoods where the users live.
Meanwhile, those who support more liberal firework laws look at the same statistics as the critics and conclude that, when used properly, consumer fireworks are a safer form of recreation than riding bicycles or playing soccer.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has guidelines concerning the standard of consumer fireworks sold in the US. Together with US Customs, they are very proactive in enforcing these rules, intercepting imported fireworks that don't comply and issuing recalls on unacceptable consumer fireworks that are found to have "slipped through". Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is the federal agency that regulates explosives, including Display Fireworks in the US.
Many states have laws which further restrict access to and use of consumer fireworks, and some of these states such as New Jersey vigorously enforce them. Each year, there are many raids on individuals suspected of illegally possessing fireworks.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) as well as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have general jurisdiction over what types of fireworks may be legally sold in the United States. The federal law is only the minimum standard however, and each state is free to enact laws that are more stringent if they so choose. Citing concerns over fireworks safety, some states, such as California, have enacted legislation restricting fireworks usage to devices that do not leave the ground, such as fountains. North Carolina limits fireworks to a charge of 200 grams of black powder. States such as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Delaware ban all consumer fireworks completely. Rhode Island and Arizona have recently passed bills legalizing certain types of small fireworks. Maine only allows sparklers. On the other hand, states such as South Dakota, South Carolina and Tennessee allow most or all legal consumer fireworks to be sold and used throughout the year. New Mexico in some cases, will not allow fireworks from individual residents if the fireworks are said to detonate over 5 feet (1.5 m) in height.
Illinois only permits sparklers, snake/glow worm pellets, smoke devices, trick noisemakers, and plastic or paper caps. However, many users travel to neighboring states such as Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, and Wisconsin to obtain fireworks for use in Illinois. This situation is similar to the plight of many St. Louis residents as fireworks are illegal within both city and county limits. However, fireworks are readily available in nearby St. Charles County.
Pennsylvania law only allows fireworks that do not leave the ground to be sold and used by residents. Residents of other states, and Pennsylvania residents with a permit, can buy such fireworks.
Differences in legislation among states have led many to many fireworks suppliers being located shop along state borders to sell to customers from neighboring states where fireworks are restricted. Some Native American tribes on reservation lands sell fireworks that are not legal for sale outside the reservation.
The type of fireworks sold in the United States range from those permitted under federal law to illegal explosive devices and professional fireworks sold on the black market. Both the illicit manufacture and diversion of illegal explosives to the consumer market have become a growing problem in recent years.
Display fireworks safety
Federal, state, and local authorities govern the use of display fireworks in the United States. At the federal level, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) sets forth a set of codes which give the minimum standards of display fireworks use and safety in the US. Both state and local jurisdictions can further add restrictions on the use and safety requirements of display fireworks. Typically, these jurisdictions will require a licensed operator to discharge the show. Although requirements vary from state to state, licensed operators and their crew are typically required to have hours of extensive training in the Safe use of display fireworks.
These codes can include, but are not limited to, distance from the audience, maximum size shell, firing location requirements, electrical firing system requirements, and the minimum safety gear to be worn by the fireworks crew. These guidelines are explained in the NFPA 1123 fireworks code.
In the United States, the laws governing consumer fireworks vary widely from state to state, or from county to county. It is common for consumers to cross state and county lines in order to purchase types of fireworks which are outlawed in their home-jurisdictions. Fireworks laws in urban areas typically limit sales or use by dates or seasons. Municipalities may have stricter laws than their counties or states do. In the United States, fireworks dealers generally only sell to people over 18 years of age.
The American Pyrotechnic Association maintains a directory of state laws pertaining to fireworks.
Four states (Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York) ban the sale of all consumer fireworks including novelties and sparklers by the general public.
One state (Arizona) permits residents to purchase and use only novelties, However a new fireworks law effective December 2010 will allow all non- aerial fireworks such as fountains, sparklers, smoke bombs, while still prohibiting firecrackers.
Three states (Illinois, Iowa, and Maine) permit residents to purchase and use only wire or wood stick sparklers and other novelties.
Nineteen states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia) allow residents to purchase and use non-aerial and non-explosive fireworks like novelties, fountains and sparklers. Wisconsin also allows the purchase of aerial explosive fireworks, but only allows their launch in designated areas in each county.
For example: California has very specific requirements for the types of consumer fireworks that can be sold to and used by residents. Even then each city can and often does place restrictions on sale and use. Although the manufacturing of fireworks for the whole state is legal if used as an artform and if you aren't distributing those fireworks.
Another example: In Minnesota only consumer fireworks that do not explode or fly through the air are now permitted to be sold to and used by residents. In Nebraska the sale and use of all consumer fireworks are prohibited in Omaha, while in Lincoln there is a two-day selling period and in other parts of the state all of the permitted types can be sold and used by residents.
Twenty two states—Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming and Pennsylvania permit the sale of all or most types of consumer fireworks to residents. Many of these states have selling seasons around Independence Day and/or Christmas and New Year's Eve. Some of these states also allow local laws or regulations to further restrict the types permitted or the selling seasons.
For example: Missouri permits all types of consumer fireworks to be sold to residents with two selling seasons; June 20–July 10 and December 20–January 2. South Carolina permits all types of consumer fireworks except small rockets less than 1⁄2 inch in diameter and 3 inches long to be sold and used by residents year-round.
Two states (Hawaii and Nevada) allow each county to establish their own regulations. For example, Clark County, Nevada, where Las Vegas is located, allows residents to purchase and use only non-explosive and non-aerial consumer fireworks during Independence Day, while other counties permit all types of consumer fireworks.
Many states including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada and Wisconsin limit or prohibit the use of fireworks, but permit them to be sold subject to the condition that they are not used in the state.
Many Native American Tribes have consumer fireworks stores on reservation lands that are exempt from state and local authority and will sell to people that are not in the tribe.
Britain classifies fireworks into four categories:
- Category 1 - indoor fireworks, for use in small areas.
- Category 2 - garden fireworks; must be safely viewable from 5 meters and must not scatter debris beyond 3 meters.
- Category 3 - display fireworks; must be safely viewable from 25 meters and must not scatter debris beyond 50 meters.
- Category 4 - professional fireworks; a person must have adequate insurance and storage to purchase and use these fireworks. Insurance can only be obtained once they have a knowledge of the safe use and storage of Category 4 fireworks. There is no such thing as a "license" to buy or use Category 4 fireworks.
Fireworks are mostly used in England, Scotland and Wales around Guy Fawkes Night, November 5. The most common injuries are burns from hand-held fireworks such as sparklers. People are also injured by projectiles fired from fireworks, often due to incorrect use. Other issues include the dangers of falling rocket sticks, especially from larger rockets containing metal motors. "Shock" adverts have been used for many years in an attempt to restrict injuries from fireworks, especially targeted at young people. The vast majority of fireworks are "Category 3, (Display Fireworks)" all of which state that spectators must be at least 25 metres away when the firework is fired. This is a safety concern as few people have access to that amount of private space. Other categories include "Category 2 (Garden Fireworks)" for which spectators must be at least 8 metres away, and "Category 4 - Professional Use Only", which may only be used by professional pyrotechnists and must not be sold to the general public.
Commercial and display fireworks
In the UK, responsibility for the safety of firework displays is shared between the Health and Safety Executive, fire brigades and local authorities. Currently, there is no national system of licensing for fireworks operators, but in order to purchase display fireworks, operators must have licensed explosives storage and public liability insurance.
In the United Kingdom fireworks cannot be sold to people under the age of 18 and are not permitted to be set off between 11pm and 7am with exceptions only for:
- New Year (Midnight New Year's Eve, valid until 1am)
- Bonfire Night (5 November) (Valid until midnight)
- The Chinese New Year (Valid until 1am)
- Diwali (Valid until 1am)
The legal NEC (Net Explosive Content) of a UK Firework available to the public is 2 Kilograms. Jumping Jacks, Strings of Firecrackers, Shell Firing tubes, Bangers and Mini-Rockets were all banned during the late 1990s. In 2004 single shot Air Bombs and Bottle Rockets were banned, and rocket sizes were limited. From March 2008 any firework with over 5% flashpowder per tube will be classified 1.3G. The aim of these measures was to eliminate "pocket money" fireworks, and to limit the disruptive effects of loud bangs.
Republic of Ireland
In the Republic of Ireland, fireworks are illegal and possession is punishable by huge fines and/or prison. However, around Halloween a large amount of fireworks are set off, due to the ease of being able to purchase from Northern Ireland.
Fireworks in New Zealand are available from the 2nd to the 5th November, around Guy Fawkes Day, and may be purchased only by those 18 years of age and older (up from 14 years pre-2007). Despite the restriction on when fireworks may be sold, there is no restriction regarding when fireworks may be used. The types of fireworks available to the public are multi-shot "cakes", Roman candles, single shot shooters, ground and wall spinners, fountains, cones, sparklers, and various novelties, such as smoke bombs and Pharaoh's serpents. Consumer fireworks are also not allowed to be louder than 90 decibels.
In Norway, fireworks can only be purchased and used by people 18 or older. Sale is restricted to a few days before New Year's Eve. Rockets are not allowed.
In Australia, Type 1 fireworks are permitted to be sold to the public. For anything that has a large explosion or gets airborne, users need to register for a Type 2 Licence. On August 24, 2009 the ACT Government announced a complete ban on backyard fireworks. The Northern Territory allows fireworks to be sold to residents 18 years or older in the days leading up to Northern Territory Day (July 1) for personal purposes. The types of fireworks allowed for sale is restricted to quieter fireworks, which can only be used at the address provided to the seller.
In the Netherlands, fireworks cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 16. It may only be sold during a period of three days before a new year. If one of these days is a Sunday, that day is excluded from sale and sale may commence one day earlier.
In Finland those under 18 years old haven't been allowed to buy any fireworks since 2009. Safety goggles are required. The use of fireworks is generally allowed on the evening and night of New Year's Eve, December 31. In some municipalities of Western Finland it is allowed to use fireworks without a fire station's permission on the last weekend of August. With the fire station's permission, fireworks can be used year-round.
In Iceland, the Icelandic law states that anyone may purchase and use fireworks during a certain period around New Year's Eve. Most places that sell fireworks in Iceland make their own rules about age of buyers, usually it is around 16. The people of Reykjavík spend enormous sums of money on fireworks, most of which are fired as midnight approaches on December 31. As a result, every New Year's Eve the city is lit up with fireworks displays.
In Switzerland Fireworks are often used on the 1st of August, which is a national celebration day.
In France, fireworks are traditionally displayed on the eve of Bastille day (July 14) to commemorate the French revolution and the storming of the Bastille on that same day in 1789. Every city in France lights up the sky for the occasion with a special mention to Paris that offers a spectacle around the Eiffel Tower.
In Chile, the manufacture, importation, possession and use of fireworks is prohibited to unauthorized individuals; only certified firework companies can legally use fireworks. As they are considered a type of explosive, offenders can in principle be tried before military courts, though this is unusual in practice.
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- Quote from Dave Whysall of Dave Whysall's International Fireworks located in Orton, ON. www.dwfireworks.com
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fireworks.|
- Plimpton, George (1984). Fireworks: A History and Celebration. Doubleday. ISBN 0385154143.
- Brock, Alan St. Hill (1949). A History of Fireworks. George G. Harrap & Co.
- Russell, Michael S (2008). The chemistry of fireworks. Royal Society of Chemistry, Great Britain. ISBN 9780854041275.
- Shimizu, Takeo (1996). Fireworks: The Art, Science, and Technique. Pyrotechnica Publications. ISBN 978-0929388052.
- Werrett, Simon (2010). Fireworks: Pyrotechnic Arts and Sciences in European History. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226893778.