July 3, 2011

Are 'snappers' adult novelty or dangerous fireworks?

Regulators grapple with a party favor that is like the fuseless devices marketed to kids, but more powerful.

Bloomberg News

The fireworks industry is taking issue with decisions by two federal agencies not to restrict adult-sized versions of children's "snappers" sold as novelties for Independence Day celebrations.

The American Pyrotechnics Association -- whose members include fireworks retailers and show producers such as Walt Disney and Zambelli Fireworks -- have pressed the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for action on the inch-long fuseless devices.

Sold under names including "Thunder Snaps," "Mighty Poppers" and "Black Eyed Peas," the products, made mostly in China, are sold in some stores in states where fireworks sales are legal, said Julie Heckman, the association's executive director.

"Do I have to have somebody die this Fourth of July before they're going to get involved?" Heckman asked. "Our members aren't selling this stuff; it's the renegades who are."

The issue for regulators is whether adult snappers are more like children's snappers, which are considered novelties, or fireworks. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, part of the Transportation Department, supervises the transportation of fireworks. It does not regulate novelties as explosives.

"PHMSA is currently working with an independent lab to test these novelty devices to see if they should be regulated," said Patricia Klinger, a spokeswoman for the hazardous materials safety agency.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has authority to regulate the sale of consumer fireworks, declined the fireworks group's request to ban the sale of adult snappers, though it voiced concern about their potential to cause injuries.

Adult snappers have explosive power similar to firecrackers and should meet the same labeling requirements, the consumer safety agency said in an interpretation letter June 2 to fireworks importers. Failure to include appropriate warnings may result in civil or criminal penalties, the agency said.

Like their child-sized counterparts, adult snappers aren't lit; rather, they ignite on contact with a hard surface. The explosive content, however, is many times the 1.0 milligram of silver fulminate found in kids' snaps.

A Swampscott, Mass., boy lost parts of two fingers after detonating Mighty Poppers in his kitchen in 2008. The 13-year-old bought the devices at a convenience store, according to a lawsuit filed by his family.

The poppers contained more than .75 grains (48 milligrams) of explosive material, more than three times the state's legal limit for those types of fireworks, according to the legal complaint.

An 11-year-old girl was critically injured last July 4 in Platte City, Mo., when a stack of adult snappers detonated in her face, according to news reports.

"They're being marketed to the public as little snappers, and they're not," Heckman said. "This product can mass-detonate if you drop a case."

The association June 7 asked all consumer fireworks importers, distributors and retailers to remove adult snappers from their shelves and distribution chains.

 

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