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Editorial: This July 4th, let's light a fuse on common sense and courtesy

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A youngster holds his ears as fireworks explode over the Cooper River during North Charleston's Fourth of July celebration at Riverfront Park last year. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

About 80% of the 16,000 public Fourth of July fireworks displays in the United States, including most in the Lowcountry, have been canceled this year because of their potential to draw large crowds and promote the spread of COVID-19. But there are plenty of other good reasons to permanently scale back fireworks. They’re dangerous, start fires, terrify pets, and yes, they’re still mostly made in China.

Despite all that, consumer fireworks sales have spiked since May. Americans have been spending about $900 million on them annually, and sales normally don’t take off until the end of June. According to CBS News, some of the nation’s biggest retailers are reporting huge increases in sales.

“I have never, ever in over 40 years of business seen sales like this — there isn’t one of our stores that isn’t up significantly,” said Bruce Zoldan, the head of Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks, which has stores across the country.

A bill pending in North Carolina’s Legislature would relax fireworks laws there to try to deter so many residents from driving into South Carolina to stock up.

South Carolina, traditionally a firecracker-happy state with some of most relaxed laws in the nation, could stand to take its flash-bang celebrations down a notch. Dozens of people, mostly children, get seriously injured every year around the Fourth of July.

Last year in Spartanburg, where fireworks are prohibited in the city, a 29-year-old man was killed when a large firework he was holding above his head exploded. Somehow, an entire shipping container of fireworks exploded outside a Fort Mill store last year.

A little common sense and courtesy will help keep this year’s Independence Day celebration safe. Smartly, the city of Charleston doesn’t allow anything more explosive than sparklers. The beaches ban them as well. Still, the state ranks No. 5 in importing fireworks, nearly $19 million per year.

In recent years, fireworks have been blamed for starting some 19,000 fires and more than 9,000 injuries nationwide, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Police generally aren’t big fans of fireworks, which make their work harder for a number of reasons. Big cities such as New York and Boston have reported an unprecedented number of fireworks complaints lately.

Fireworks make a mess. Aside from the litter they create, pyrotechnics pollute the air in a concentrated way with toxins and fine particles that have been linked to respiratory problems.

Chemicals from fireworks can also get into water. Even though no fireworks have been exploded over Mount Rushmore for more than a decade, a toxic chemical linked to fireworks, perchlorate, still affects well water there. Some environmental groups tried to stop this year’s planned July 3 display based on that ill effect, but to no avail. On top of that, the Environmental Protection Agency reversed course recently on plans to regulate perchlorate pollution in part because it is used in rocket fuel and military munitions.

Yes, fireworks can be a lot of fun. But they’re also dirty, loud, dangerous and ultimately frivolous. There are plenty of other ways to show your patriotism than terrifying neighborhood pets, spewing pollution into your neighbors’ yards and potentially injuring yourself or others by blowing up something .

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