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A ban in the 'works

By Michael Davis

While the state of Georgia said it was OK, public safety officials in Henry County are worried about the use of now-legal consumer sparklers.

A law passed by the General Assembly during 2005 session makes legal the sale and use of sparklers in Georgia, where all other types of fireworks are banned except for use by licensed display operators. But top public safety officials here are concerned with not only the fire hazard sparklers may pose, but the use of the ignition chemical in the manufacture of the illegal drug methamphetamine.

For years, state fire officials had been successful at keeping fireworks bans on the books in Georgia, said Henry County Fire Chief Barry Jenkins.

"We feel like (the new sparkler law) is going to open the door for the fireworks industry to propose legislation to go ahead and get full-fledged fireworks," he said.

Jenkins proposed an ordinance that would ban the sale and use of sparklers in Henry and shopped it around to the county's four cities, which he hoped would adopt a similar ban. Two cities – McDonough and Stockbridge – signed on and passed ordinances earlier this month, but, when it came before county commissioners Monday, the board tabled it with little discussion.

"We're still trying to figure out what derailed it," Jenkins said.

Henry County chairman Jason Harper, after the meeting Monday, questioned whether the county ought to be more restrictive than the state regarding fireworks.

"I just wonder should we alter the law the state Legislature just passed," he said, adding that at least some others on the board feel the same way.

The state's law allows for wire or wood sparkler-type fireworks that contain up to 100 grams of chemical compound and up to 200 grams of compound for other sparkler devices that contain multiple tubes. Also within the law is a provision that prohibits the sale of sparklers to anyone under the age of 18.

Julie Heckman, the executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, a fireworks industry trade group, said fireworks are safe when used properly and according to instructions and in states where consumer fireworks are legal, fewer users are injured.

"When they have the freedom to celebrate, they're going to take the time to do it properly," she said. In states where fireworks are prohibited, "no safety messages are put out at all," she said.

A spokesman for the office of the Georgia Insurance and Fire Commissioner John Oxendine said public service announcements regarding the safe use of consumer sparklers will likely begin appearing this week or next in anticipation of use near the Fourth of July holiday.

Henry County's public safety division director, Michael Turner, who oversees the county's police, fire, animal control, E-911 and code enforcement department, is also concerned that the chemicals used in sparklers can be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant that has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Measures have been taken in many jurisdictions to curb the availability of other compounds, such as certain cold medicines, used in the drug's manufacture.

The cities of Stockbridge and McDonough passed the ordinance prohibiting sparklers earlier this month, but Hampton and Locust Grove have not taken any action.

"Our fire people felt it was a safety issue, so we passed it," said McDonough City Administrator James Lee.

Officials in Locust Grove broached the subject during a workshop meeting recently, but took no action.

"The council wants to look more into it," said Locust Grove Mayor Lorene Lindsey. "I have some councilmen that are into fireworks and some that are not," she said.

Henry County Fire's Jenkins and Public Safety Director Turner said they are hoping to soon find out whether the sparkler ordinance needs to be tailored to get the board's support.

"We were hoping to do this as a cohesive unit, so we'll just see," he said.