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Columbia Missourian

Columbia experts warn against sparklers for kids

By Mollie Barnes, Isabel Casal-Nazario
July 3, 2013 | 7:06 p.m. CDT

*Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the year of fireworks-related injury statistics. The statistics are for 2011.

COLUMBIA — Educating people about preventing burns is a calling for Robin Sypolt, and she's hoping her message about sparkler safety makes a difference during Fourth of July festivities.

Tips on the use of sparklers for 4th of July:

University Hospital burn intensive care unit staff nurse, Robin Sypolt, shared tips when using sparklers.

  • "Children under 10 years old should not be given sparklers," Sypolt said.
  • Alternatives, such as glow sticks, should be used instead.
  • In the case of a small burn, cool the area down and cover it with a clean bandage. Do not try to pop or touch blisters.
  • The wound must be seen by a doctor if the hands, face or groin are part of the injured area. If the injury is not treated promptly, scarring may occur. 
  • In the case of an emergency, call the emergency room or the University Hospital burn unit at 882-4141.


As a nurse in the burn unit at University Hospital, Sypolt's seen her share of children needing emergency treatment for sparkler injuries. She advises keeping sparklers away from children under 10 and offers tips on safe sparkler use.

Sparklers, which can reach 2,000 degrees, were the cause of 17 percent of fireworks-related injuries that resulted in emergency room visits in the U.S. in 2011, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Approximately 9,600 fireworks injuries were treated during 2011, according to the commission. The peak month was July, and one-third of the injuries involved children.

"I've seen little kids come in and their pants have caught on fire because little kids, like toddlers and preschoolers, don't know to hold them away from their bodies and not to run with them," Sypolt said. "So they have a higher chance of letting them touch their jeans or their pants and then it can catch on fire."

Sypolt said one of the worst cases she's seen in Columbia involving sparklers was a 3-year-old who caught his pants on fire and burned both legs. "He had to stay in the ICU for three days because he had to get wound dressings," she said.

Sypolt urges alternatives to sparklers and other fireworks for children. 

"Experts recommend that you give kids glow sticks," she said. "You can get them pretty inexpensive. They last longer than a sparkler, they are safer than a sparkler, and even if a child were to get it open, the chemical is nontoxic. That is definitely safer than a burn."

It takes less exposure at a lower heat for children to get burned because their skin is thinner than adults, Sypolt said. The same injury that would cause an adult to blister could result in a third-degree burn for a child, she said.

Jeffrey Coughenour, a surgeon in the University Hospital burn unit, said he participates in a neighborhood fireworks display but won't allow his two boys, ages 5 and 8, to use sparklers. 

"The problem with sparklers is folks underestimate them," Coughenour said. "Injuries to the face, the eyes and hands are those sort of things that are small in size but can have long-lasting effects."

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, sparklers are banned in four states: Delaware, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. Despite risks for children, the ban on fireworks in Columbia exempts sparklers.

Leigh Vrooman, a mother of three, was buying sparklers and other fireworks with her family on Tuesday at a stand just south of Columbia.

"We have made sure our kids have close-toed shoes on, and they have to stand a certain distance from each other," she said. "But, obviously, we don't let our 2-year-old use them."

Battalion Chief Brad Fraizer of the Columbia Fire Department recommends proper use and disposal of sparklers.

"Sparklers can stay hot for a long time after the flame goes out, so you want to drop them in a bucket of water," he said.