Fireworks Safety and Security

Image of fireworks over the D.C. monument

Federal explosives regulations promulgated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) define two general categories of fireworks sold in the United States: “display fireworks” and “consumer fireworks.”

Display fireworks are the large fireworks used in shows, generally under the supervision of a trained pyrotechnician. The regulations at 27 CFR, Part 555, require that any person engaging in the business of importing, manufacturing, dealing in, or otherwise receiving display fireworks must first obtain a Federal explosives license or permit from ATF for the specific activity.

Consumer fireworks are the small fireworks usually sold at stands around the Fourth of July holiday. ATF does not regulate the importation, distribution, or storage of completed consumer fireworks, but other federal, state, and local agencies do regulate these items to a varying degree. Because consumer fireworks contain pyrotechnic compositions classified by ATF as explosive materials, the manufacturing of consumer fireworks requires a federal explosives license from ATF.


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 are located in ATF P 5400.7.

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 non-process buildings; and
  • For the storage of display fireworks except bulk salutes.

Illegal Explosives

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.

Image of an m-80

Some indicators that a device may be an illegal explosive:

  • 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).

Fireworks Q&As
Last Reviewed June 14, 2021