Firework imports from China are steadily growing in the United States, said a leading U.S. safety and trade association.
Despite a shortage of firework products due to domestic supply chain problems in the U.S., the total weight of fireworks sold in the country still hit a record 404.5 million pounds (183.5 million kilograms) last year, with almost all of its backyard consumer fireworks and two-thirds of professional display products manufactured in China, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.
That figure represents an increase by 48 percent from the previous year and would also translate to each American using at least 1 pound of fireworks last year.
Julie L Heckman, executive director of APA, said the U.S. experienced unprecedented sales and use of backyard consumer fireworks during the pandemic last year, with industry revenue nearly doubling from $1 billion to $1.9 billion.
"But approximately 30 percent of the consumer fireworks needed for this Independence Day either didn't make it out of China, are sitting on ocean vessels in the Pacific Ocean waiting to berth at the ports, or they've been sitting at the West Coast ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for nine to 12 weeks waiting to be put on the rail of APA," said Heckman in an interview with China Daily.
"That's a safety concern to us that hazardous material should not be sitting in at these ports for a lengthy period of time," she said. "And I know that the National Retail Federation also requested that the administration look into the supply chain disruptions, because all consumer goods are being impacted right now."
As a result of the consumer fireworks shortage and the substantial increase in transportation related costs, the APA said consumers can expect to pay more when they stock up for their backyard celebrations this Fourth of July.
Heckman also said the professional side of the industry is going to experience a summer of recovery after widespread cancellations last year, as people celebrate both the Fourth of July and the beginning of a post-pandemic era.
"I think we're going to exceed 2019 levels, but I don't think it will be as high as 2020," she said.
Fireworks is a popular consumer product and has narrowly avoided additional tariffs imposed on wide-ranging Chinese imports by the previous U.S. administration.
Heckman had attended a June 2019 hearing to speak against the increased tariffs at the International Trade Commission in Washington. She said U.S. companies have forged close ties with their Chinese partners to produce the "highest quality and safest" fireworks, and it would take 10 to 15 years if they were forced to shift production elsewhere.
While July 4 is still the big day for the big bang, Americans continue to use fireworks all year round to celebrate festivals, special events and sporting traditions such as the Olympics and Super Bowl.
"China is the global supplier. They have done a phenomenal job in making quality safe goods that comply with U.S. regulations," Heckman said. "It would be very difficult for our industry to shift away from that."
Heckman had been to China numerous times, talking with quality inspection officials and visiting manufacturing sites in Liuyang of Hunan province, where she found the quality of the products "solid".
"The Chinese factories take great pride in producing these fireworks, not just for the U.S., but also for the global market," she said.
The U.S. has a third-party testing lab, the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory, which has technicians and laboratories based in China to maintain quality control and product testing.
In a report released by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on Tuesday, the U.S. reported a 50 percent increase in deaths and injuries in fireworks related incidents in 2020 as compared to the previous year.
"It's not the quality of the product. The vast majority of injuries and or fires occur due to the misuse of fireworks," Heckman said. "And I will say that the Consumer Product Safety Commission in their estimate of injuries, they do not factor in consumption, and consumption doubled. Therefore, the injury rate actually was quite nominal."
CPSC's Acting Chairman Robert Adler also said consumers should be more aware when handling fireworks.
"Consumers should enjoy professional fireworks displays from a distance and be extra vigilant when using consumer type fireworks," he said.