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What are Sparklers?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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Sparklers are handheld fireworks, most commonly seen in the US on the Fourth of July. In some states, they may only be available a few weeks before the Fourth. In other states and towns, the traditional sparklers, that most adults are familiar with, are no longer for sale or in use. Sparklers are very pretty, but unfortunately are the major cause of burn related injuries associated with personal fireworks.

Standard sparklers feature a long thin rod, about 12 inches (30.48 cm) long. One side of the rod is meant to be held, while the other side is dipped in certain metallic fuels that can give off a color, usually one color only. Common metals that burn well include iron and aluminum, to which chemicals like potassium nitrate, potassium chlorate, carbon or sulfur may be added. To get certain colors, barium, copper and and strontium are added, producing green, blue/green, and red sparks respectively.

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A sparkler’s tip is lit using a match, lighter, or other device. As it ignites, colored sparks fly out from the sparkler, gradually working their way down to the end of the coated area. The metals burn at very hot temperatures, up to 3000 F (1649 C), which accounts for their high incidence in injury. Especially since sparklers are often given to young children, they are something of a disaster waiting to occur. Young children, and even older ones should be carefully watched so that they hold sparklers away from themselves. Long sleeve shirts and close-toed shoes can also help keep sparks from landing on the skin. A bucket of water, and access to a water source is an important safety feature when using sparklers or other personal fireworks.

A somewhat safer type of sparkler is often called the morning glory. Unlike the standard sparkler, it usually features a wooden handle. Also the sparks of these sparklers tend to send sparks forward from the tip of the sparklers only, instead of sending the sparks shooting in a diffuse circular pattern from the end of the tip. Many are disappointed with morning glory sparklers because they are considered not as pretty and less dramatic.

Some countries traditionally place sparklers on the top of birthday cakes instead of lighted candles. British children are frequently given sparklers to use on Guy Fawkes Day, and children in Australia may hold them on Australia day. Sparklers are often thought excellent for children, not for safety issues, but because they tend to be very inexpensive. A box of 8-10 sparklers usually costs less than a couple of US dollars.

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