The Fourth of July fell on a Sunday this year. If only this holiday would have brought a reprieve from the fireworks exploding in our neighborhoods.

The guy next door firing bottle rockets and jet screamers doesn’t exactly capture the spirit of Independence Day. His homemade pyrotechnics show gets old fast.

There’s the noise, litter from debris, haze of smoke, upset dogs and war veterans who are further traumatized by bombs bursting in air.

Then there are the injuries. They have increased significantly since the Iowa Legislature legalized the sale of fireworks in 2017. Lawmakers went out of their way to ensure Iowans could quickly buy explosives that blow off fingers, puncture eyes and burn skin.

And that’s exactly what Iowans did.

A new report examines trends in emergency department visits for fireworks injuries before and after legalization at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and Iowa Methodist Medical Center. In the three years before legalization, the two hospitals saw a total of 42 injuries. In less than two years after legalization, the number of injuries jumped to 107.

Hands are at greatest risk. Amputations increased from zero at those locations before legalization to nearly 20% of the patients after legalization.

“We’ll try to save the thumb,” said Dr. Michael Takacs, a professor of emergency room medicine at UI. “We try to save everything, but fingers are hard. If there’s not blood supply and enough skin, it leads to partial amputation of the fingers.”

Also common are injuries to the eyes, face and torso. People tend to be wearing shorts and tank tops this time of year, and more than half the patients who head to the ER suffer from burns. Serious ones can lead to nerve damage and scarring that limits movement, said Jolyn Schneider, the nurse manager at UI’s Burn Trauma center.

While the vast majority of injuries happen to young adult males, easier access to fireworks in Iowa means more kids inevitably get their hands on them. People under age 18 account for about 30% of injuries.

For this additional physical trauma — and the accompanying medical bills funded by taxpayers when patients are enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare — Iowans can thank state lawmakers. Iowans used to drive to a bordering state to obtain fireworks. Lawmakers wanted to make sure their constituents could purchase them right down the street and legally launch them in the backyard.

These lawmakers disregarded fire chiefs who opposed legalization.

They ignored data on fires and the fireworks-related blazes that devastated two Iowa towns, destroying and damaging nearly 100 buildings, that led to banning the sale of fireworks in this state in the 1930s.

They dismissed casualties that included a 15-year-old Hoover High School student who was among the young people shooting fireworks from an SUV in Des Moines before a cache went off in the car, which crashed into a pole, killing the 15-year-old and severely burning five other young Iowans.

They turned a blind eye to medical groups who warned about severe injuries.

And now here we are, reminded once again that elections have consequences.

Legalizing fireworks did not make Iowa a better place to live. It did just the opposite.

Des Moines Register

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