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Professional fireworks shows still plentiful despite federal figures to the contrary

Megan Tomasic
1364399_web1_Ptr-fireworks05-070513
Tribune-Review
File photo of Zambelli fireworks at the 2013 EQT Three Rivers Regatta.
1364399_web1_Ptr-fireworks03-070513
Tribune-Review
File photo of Zambelli fireworks at the 2013 EQT Three Rivers Regatta.

Business for display fireworks companies is booming, industry experts say, despite figures showing a dud when it comes to pounds of pyrotechnic goods sold over the past two decades.

Between 2000 and 2018, there was a 31.5 million pound decrease in the number of display fireworks used in the United States, according to American Pyrotechnics Association.

The disconnect is caused by the federal government’s categorization of fireworks shipped into the country, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the Bethesda, Md.-based APA.

Fireworks are typically split into two categories — 1.4G consumer and 1.4G professional, based on the amount of explosives used, Heckman said. When fireworks are brought into the country, the harmonized tariff system — which provides tariff rates and categories for all merchandise imported into the United States — lumps both categories under the consumer label, giving the illusion of a shrinking display fireworks industry, Heckman said.

“We believe the consumer figures that we report are a bit overinflated and represent a sizable quantity of professional-use-only products, but the Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) codes do not allow us to break out that data,” Heckman told the Tribune-Review. HTS is managed by the Office of Tariff Affairs and Trade Agreements.

Still, figures on the APA website show an increase of just over 156 million pounds of consumer fireworks in the country between 2000 and 2018. For display fireworks, 50.6 million pounds of fireworks were used in 2000 compared with 19.1 million pounds used in 2018.

That number dipped from 64.1 million pounds in 2002 to 24.8 million pounds in 2003 for display fireworks. Heckman attributes that drop to the implementation of the Safe Explosives Act, which restricted the use of 1.3G professional display fireworks. These fireworks use more explosive powder than 1.4G fireworks.

The display fireworks industry did not bounce back after the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives regulated the explosives, wavering between 21 million and 26 million pounds between 2003 and 2018.

But other figures provided by the APA show a steady increase in revenues for display fireworks between 1998 and 2018. In that time, revenues increased by $219 million for display fireworks. Consumer fireworks revenue saw higher revenues in the same time frame, increasing from $284 million in 1998 to $945 million in 2018.

Kevin Shaup, owner of a Keystone Fireworks store division in Lancaster, said consumer fireworks have become safer and have increased in popularity. He added that limited budgets for municipal shows makes it “hard to justify putting on large shows.”

But at Zambelli Fireworks, based in Cranberry, business has increased year after year, board chairman George Zambelli Jr. said. The main change the display fireworks industry is seeing, he said, is the shell size used to produce shows.

The company previously used from 6- to 8-inch shells, but a smaller safety zone — the area where fireworks are set off that the public is not permitted to access — has led officials to switch to 2- to 4-inch shells.

That means the pounds of explosive material remains the same, it is just used in a smaller shell.

“Year after year, especially with residential areas and building encroaching upon display sites, these products can be used closer to the audience and are easier to transport than 1.3G Fireworks,” Heckman said.

Heckman hopes to solve that disconnect once the conversation regarding Chinese tariffs subsides. She plans to pursue a change to the Harmonized Tariff System that “will allow us to better track 1.4 professional product to break it out from the broad 1.4 consumer fireworks classification,” she said.

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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