Friday, July 4, 2008

Too Hot To Handle?

New safety concerns over Chinese-made fireworks.
Caitlin McDevitt
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 1:46 PM ET Jul 3, 2008

Last summer, it was Chinese-made toys, pet food and meat that caused concern. This July 4th holiday, there are new worries about the overly explosive nature of its fireworks. This week, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a report saying it found that nearly half of the shipments they inspected coming from China do not meet Federal safety guidelines. That's especially worrying since, according the American Pyrotechnic Association, 98 percent of fireworks used in backyards and front lawns across America are manufactured in China. NEWSWEEK's Caitlin McDevitt spoke with Scott Wolfson, a chief spokesman for the Commission about its findings and why this Independence Day could be more volatile than in previous years.

In the Commission's test of 400 Chinese shipments, 46 percent of were found to be non-compliant. That seems quite high. What were some common violations?
Wolfson: There are very strict mandatory standards for how much flash powder can be in consumer fireworks. Flash powder is the main ingredient that gives it its explosive nature. We often look for those that are over-packed. There are also standards that deal with stability. The fuse length also has to meet a standard, and there has to be certain labeling.

What's allowable under Federal standards?
Under Federal standards for legal consumer fireworks, there should only be 50 mg of flash powder or less in firecrackers, which stay on the ground and can produce a snake like effect. Aerial fireworks must contain 130 mg or less.

Some of the fireworks you found head for the consumer market was actually commercial grade, meaning they were more explosive and volatile. How are such fireworks ending up in the hands of consumers?
The CPSC has seen unscrupulous sellers willing to provide professional fireworks to consumers. It is actually a felony to sell professional fireworks to a person who does not have the appropriate license. It is also a felony to buy professional grade fireworks without a license.

Are there particular brands or kinds of fireworks that consumers should be wary of?
Anytime a product proves to be volatile the CPSC seeks to remove that product from the marketplace. The CPSC strongly encourages consumers to only use consumer grade fireworks and to use them as intended and directed.

What should people do if they suspect they may have such fireworks?
Consumers should only purchase fireworks from an approved source. They should look for fireworks with brightly colored wrapping, that has the clear and legible name of the product and only buy products out the front door - Consumers should avoid buying products in plain wrapping with no identifiable marking and being sold out the back door.

What, if anything, happens to an offending manufacturer?
We cannot hold a Chinese company accountable, [but] CPSC can hold the importer or distributor accountable. If the product violates federal law and makes its way into the marketplace, then a company can be held liable if they fail to report to CPSC in a timely manner.

What happens to illegal fireworks that the CPSC discovers?
They tend to be destroyed by ATF or Customs.

What's the CPSC doing to ensure the safety of next year's fireworks?

The CPSC inspects and tests consumer fireworks all year.

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