How to Avoid the Health Hazards of the July Fourth Holiday

From sparklers that burn at 1,000 degrees to bad burgers, here are a few tips to stay safe on Independence Day.

Man watching fireworks
Man watching fireworks

With July Fourth around the corner, many Americans will be eager to fire up the grill, light a few sparklers, and enjoy a beer or two.

However, these traditions can increase the risk of a host of health risks from burns to foodborne illnesses.

But there’s no need to cancel your Independence Day plans this Tuesday.

Here are a few tips on how to avoid these hazards during your celebrations.

  • Even small fireworks can be dangerous

    Fireworks may be a long-standing tradition, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that parents stay away.

    Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said fireworks can be especially dangerous for children even if they are just bystanders.

    2006 study published by the AAP found that one-fourth of children injured by fireworks were simply watching the backyard displays.

    “We always remind all parents and teens of the dangers associated with fireworks, and recommend they leave it up to professionals,” Glatter told Healthline in an email. “If teens choose to set off fireworks, parental supervision is recommended at all times.”

    Dr. Jerri Rose, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, said sparklers may seem like a harmless way to celebrate the holiday, but they can be especially dangerous for young children.

    “They can burn at greater than 1,000 degrees and cause really significant burns and permanent injuries to the eyes as well as injuries to fingers and toes,” Rose told Healthline.

    She advises parents to keep a close eye on older children if they are eager to wave a sparkler and keep them away from young children.

    “Go for alternatives such as glow sticks,” she said.

  • Beware the barbeque

    Everyone loves a good barbeque or picnic but don’t be lax about food safety just because you’re enjoying the holiday.

    Undercooked meats or improperly stored foods can increase the risk of contracting a variety of foodborne illnesses, none of which are a pleasant way to spend Independence Day.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a handy list of grilling safety tips.

    They advise wannabe grill masters to keep food below 40˚F (5.5˚C) before cooking, and then to use a meat thermometer to ensure all items are cooked properly.

    Foods should not be kept out at room temperature for more than two hours. If you’re outside and it’s hot, that goes down to just one hour.

  • Sun protection is key

    On Independence Day, Rose said it’s important for everyone to remember sun protection, especially for children who may not notice how long they’ve spent in the sun.

    “We have seen kids with blistering” sunburns, said Rose. “They should be seen by a physician.”

    While she acknowledged that once a sunburn causes blisters “the damage has been done, but there are recommendations we can make to manage pain.”

    The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of at least 30.

    Additionally, they suggest staying in the shade between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the harshest.

    Rose also warns parents to be on the lookout for heat exhaustion.

    “Especially young children, they’re really at risk because of physical differences,” she said. “They have a higher metabolic rate and they don’t notice the signs and symptoms” of heat exhaustion.

    She recommends parents plan indoor breaks for the kids and be on the lookout for signs of lethargy or irritability.

  • Drinking and driving

    Not driving while inebriated is a good rule year-round, but especially during the July Fourth holiday when many revelers enjoy celebrating with a few alcoholic beverages.

    The National Transportation Highway Safety Administration (NTHSA) said the holiday is “one of the deadliest holidays of the year due to drunk driving.”

    “During the 2015 Fourth of July Holiday, 146 people were killed in drunk driving crashes,” officials from the NTHSA said in a statement. “Nearly two-thirds of those killed were in crashes where at least one driver had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or higher — almost twice the legal limit.”

    The NTHSA even has an app to help people call a taxi or friend for a ride if they’ve had a few too many drinks.

    Rose said anyone planning on drinking during the holiday should make a plan ahead of time so that they are not tempted to drive home drunk.

    “Make a plan to use some other mode of transportation … we can’t emphasize enough that no one should be driving under the effects of alcohol,” Rose said.

    Additionally, Rose said drivers should take extra care on the road due to the risk from others who may be driving drunk.