Federal explosives regulations promulgated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) define three general categories of fireworks sold in the United States: "display fireworks," "consumer fireworks," and "articles pyrotechnic."
Display fireworks are the large fireworks used in fireworks display shows, generally under the supervision of a trained pyrotechnician. These fireworks are designed primarily to produce visible or audible effects by combustion, deflagration, or detonation. They include, but are not limited to, salutes containing more than 2 grains (130 mg) of flash powder, aerial shells containing more than 40 grams of pyrotechnic compositions (including any break charge and visible/audible effect composition but exclusive of lift charge), and other display pieces which exceed the limits of explosive materials for classification as "consumer fireworks." They also include fused set pieces containing components which together exceed 50 mg of flash powder. Display fireworks are classified as fireworks UN0333, UN0334 or UN0335 by the Department of Transportation.
Any person importing, manufacturing for commercial use, dealing in, transporting or causing to be transported, or otherwise receiving display fireworks must obtain an ATF Federal explosives license or permit for the specific activity. Federal explosives licensees and permittees must comply with all applicable regulations under 27 CFR, Part 555.
Consumer fireworks are the small fireworks usually sold at stands around the Fourth of July holiday. These include some small devices designed to produce audible effects, ground devices containing 50 mg or less of flash powder, and aerial devices containing 130 mg or less of flash powder. The Department of Transportation classifies consumer fireworks as UN0336, UN0337. ATF does not regulate the importation, distribution, or storage of completed consumer fireworks. However, any person manufacturing consumer fireworks for commercial use must obtain a Federal explosives manufacturers license. (Compliance with other Federal, State, and local agency regulations is required.)
Federal explosives regulations generally exempt the importation, distribution, and storage of "articles pyrotechnic," as defined under the regulation at 27 CFR 555.11. This section defines "articles pyrotechnic" as "Pyrotechnic devices for professional use similar to consumer fireworks in chemical composition and construction but not intended for consumer use. Such articles meeting the weight limits for consumer fireworks, but not labeled as such, and classified by U.S. Department of Transportation regulations in 49 CFR 172.101 as UN0431 or UN0432."
Fireworks recordkeeping and marks of identification
Federal explosives regulations require that importers must keep records of and place marks of identification on all fireworks imported for distribution. In 2008, the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) submitted a proposal to ATF regarding alternative methods for recordkeeping and marks of identification. Under this proposed alternative to the regulations, importers would mark all display fireworks entering the United States with the name and address of the importer; the manufacturer name and location of manufacturer; and the date and shift of manufacture. If industry members can show good cause for why they need a variance and meet the standards for improved tracking, tracing, and accountability of display fireworks as set out in ATF's response to the APA, ATF will consider requests for variances from certain existing recordkeeping requirements. Read ATF's letter to the APA.
Requests for variances, exemptions, and determinations may either be submitted to your local ATF Field Office or may be submitted to the Explosives Industry Programs Branch.
Tables of Distances for Fireworks
The Tables of Distances and related information at 27 CFR, Sections 555.221 through 555.224, list the required distances:
- For display fireworks, pyrotechnic compositions, and explosive materials used in assembling fireworks or articles pyrotechnic;
- Between fireworks process buildings and other specified areas;
- Between fireworks process buildings and between fireworks process and fireworks nonprocess buildings; and
- For the storage of display fireworks except bulk salutes.
Illegal explosives associated with the fireworks season are inherently dangerous because of their composition and unpredictability. Homemade explosives can pose a particular risk for injury because the people making them often lack knowledge and experience in manufacturing fireworks. Most law enforcement agencies consider devices such as M-80s, M-100s, quarter sticks, cherry bombs, silver salutes, etc., to be illegal because they exceed the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) limits for consumer fireworks, in addition to being banned by many States.
These devices meet no safety standards and often have a coating of dangerous explosive dust. Friction, heat, or being bumped can cause these devices to detonate. The U.S. Department of Transportation has classed these items as "forbidden explosives" because they have not been submitted for appropriate testing and evaluation.
Some indicators that a device may be an illegal explosive are:
It resembles a roll of coins with a fuse.
It consists of a cardboard tube or oddly shaped item wrapped in brown paper and filled with an explosive material.
It is red, silver, or brown in color
It may be 1 to 6 inches long and up to an inch or more in diameter.
It is sold on the street or out of the back of someone's vehicle.
Each year ATF investigates explosives accidents involving the manufacture of illegal explosives devices such as these. These accidents often involve serious injury or death and extensive damage to property. ATF asks that the public report the manufacture or sale of illegal fireworks or explosive devices to local law enforcement or by calling the toll-free ATF hotline at 1-888-ATF-BOMB (1-888-283-2662).