Most folks look forward to celebrating the Fourth of July, but they don't have a clue how dangerous the holiday really can be.

Fireworks, both consumer and commercial, can be hazardous. Their purpose, after all, is to explode and burn.

In fact, they are classified as hazardous substances under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in 2007 about 9,800 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with fireworks. More than half the injuries were burns, and most of the injuries involved the hands, eyes and legs. Children 10 to 14 years old had the highest injury rate among all age groups.

"Fireworks just make me extremely nervous," says Mount Pleasant mom Jennifer Ringer. "Of course, there are always people who shoot them off in the neighborhood and the kids love to be a part of that, but I am just afraid someone is going to get hurt."

The good news is that most injuries are from misuse rather than malfunction. The bad news is that misuse is rampant.

"I remember when I was younger, we did all sorts of things with fireworks that I would never let my kids do," says Russell Smith of Summerville.

About 15 years ago, he suffered serious burns on his hand while lighting fireworks. The emergency room trip ruined his holiday, and he still has scars to show for it.

"I relit a dud, and it went off faster than I thought it would," he says. "Really, I was lucky because I could have been hurt much worse than I was."

It hasn't stopped him from lighting his own fireworks since, though.

"I know the hazards, but I look forward to shooting off my own fireworks every year," he says. "The ones you can buy are getting better and better. It's just something I really enjoy."

The CPSC recommends that fireworks should be used only with extreme caution. Older children should be closely supervised, and younger children should not be allowed to play with fireworks, including sparklers. Instead of shooting them at home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends attending public displays.

Even so, fireworks are more popular than ever. Industry revenue soared to $930 million in 2007, with backyard fireworks sales representing $620 million, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. In 2000, industry revenue reached $610 million with backyard fireworks sales representing about $400 million. The association attributes the increase in fireworks use to an upsurge of patriotism and to an overall improvement in the quality and variety of fireworks.

If you choose to shoot fireworks at home, the National Council on Fireworks Safety recommends that you buy only consumer fireworks from a licensed store or stand. It is legal to sell fireworks to consumers in most locations in South Carolina, but children under 14 have to be accompanied by an adult in order to buy them.

The Federal Hazardous Substances Act prohibits the sale of the fireworks such as large reloadable mortar shells, cherry bombs, aerial bombs, M-80 salutes and larger firecrackers. Also banned are mail-order kits, components to build these fireworks and any firecracker with more than 50 milligrams of explosive powder and any aerial firework with more than 130 milligrams of flash powder, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

All fireworks must carry a warning label describing necessary safety precautions and instructions for safe use.

You should check with your municipality to see if it's legal to set off fireworks.

Safety tips

--Do not allow young children to play with fireworks under any circumstances. Sparklers, considered by many the ideal "safe" firework for the young, burn at very high temperatures and can easily ignite clothing. Children cannot understand the danger involved and cannot act appropriately in case of an emergency.

--Read and follow directions on the package.

--Older children should be permitted to use fireworks only under close adult supervision. Do not allow any running or horseplay.

--Light fireworks outdoors in a clear area away from houses, dry leaves or grass and flammable materials.

--Do not point or throw fireworks at people or animals.

--Keep a bucket of water nearby for emergencies and for pouring on fireworks that don't go off.

--Do not try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks. Douse and soak them with water and throw them away.

--Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.

--Never ignite fireworks in a container, especially glass or metal.

--Keep unused fireworks away from firing areas.

--Store fireworks in a cool, dry place. Check instructions for special storage directions.

--Observe local laws.

--Never have any portion of your body directly over a firework while lighting it.

--Don't experiment with homemade fireworks.

Pop patriotic quiz

In honor of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, we scoured the Web to come up with this patriotic quiz. Answers are on Page 9B.

1. What South Carolinians signed the Declaration of Independence?

2. What do three of the first five presidents have in common?

3. What do the following items on the Statue of Liberty symbolize: torch, crown, rays in the crown, chains and tablet?

4. When Founding Father George Washington visited Charleston in May 1791, spectators noted his time of arrival on the clock on what historic building?

5. Hot dogs are synonymous with Independence Day. What year was the first Nathan's Famous International Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Championship held?

Quiz answers

1. Edward Rutledge, who at 26 was the youngest signer (buried at St. Philip's Episcopal Church); Thomas Heyward Jr.; Thomas Lynch Jr., the second youngest signer next to Rutledge; and Arthur Middleton, who is buried at Middleton Place.

2. They all died on Independence Day. Thomas Jefferson, 83, and John Adams, 90, died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826, and James Monroe died in 1831 at 73.

3. The torch is a symbol of enlightenment. The 25 windows in the crown symbolize gemstones and the heavens' rays shining over the world. The seven rays in the crown represent the seven seas and continents of the world. The chains and broken shackle symbolize the statue as a goddess free from oppression and servitude. The tablet represents a book of law.

4. The clock tower at St. Philip's Church. The time was 2 p.m. and the date was May 2, 1791. His visit lasted until May 9.

5. The contest has been held each year on July 4 since 1916. Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., is the reigning champ, having bested Takeru Kobayashi of Nagano, Japan, in a five-dog overtime after both ate 59 Nathan's Famous hot dogs and buns in the 10-minute regulation match.