What to know when making your own July 4th fireworks display

State-by-state regulations prohibit some kinds of pyrotechnics

With COVID-19 concerns and large group gatherings changing July 4th celebration plans across the country, the traditional fireworks displays held by many cities and towns have either been canceled or altered.

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In New York, where one of the country's grandest pyrotechnic spectacles has been on display for the last 44 years, the annual Macy's extravaganza has been altered. Smaller events have been held around the city leading up to the country's birthday. The finale will be Saturday above the Empire State Building. The event is usually staged off several barges in the East River.

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Unlike New York though, several cities and towns have postponed their annual spectacles to prevent large groups from gathering and potentially spreading the coronavirus. As a result, many Americans have been purchasing fireworks with plans to put on their own "mini shows."

But each state has its own set of laws of what allowed and what is not allowed.

Consumer fireworks, or DOT 1.4G fireworks, are legal for leisure use in every state under federal law. In order to be classified as such, according to US Firewroks, they must be tested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and meet various requirements in terms of composition, quantity of pyrotechnic material, and stability under heat and stress. Fireworks that don’t meet those standards are classified as commercial, and not legal for everyday consumers.

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Shells and mortars, Roman Candles, novelty items like ground spinners, and firecrackers with less than 50 milligrams of powder are all considered to be consumer, according to the CPSC.

Individual states can pass legislation more restrictive than federal standards, however, and can restrict certain types of consumer fireworks or ban them altogether. State laws on the matter change fairly frequently but consumers can contact their state’s Fire Marshall Office to be sure.

States that allow a majority of consumer fireworks:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Iowa
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

States permitting the sale and use of fireworks that are non-aerial and non-explosive:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • District of Columbia

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Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, UK. October 26, 2009. A selection of home fireworks for use at Bonfire night.

Almost 80 percent of firework revenue is associated with July 4th celebrations, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. But since many of those celebrations were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the industry could be losing money.

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“Of the 16,000 Independence Day fireworks displays that typically occur nationwide annually in cities and towns, only a scant few will occur this year,” the agency said in a statement. “These nationwide cancellations have created significant financial hardship for the small, multigenerational family businesses who derive their livelihood from bringing communities together to celebrate their pride and patriotism on one day a year — Independence Day.”

Still, consumer fireworks retail sales are at an “all-time high,” according to an APA press release from June 22, which attributes the high sales numbers to the widespread cancellation of regularly scheduled Independence Day events.

The APA represents about 150 fireworks display companies, most of which being small businesses.