Friday, November 07, 2008

'Dependence Day?' America at mercy of China for fireworks

With skyrocketing prices, safety hazards, U.S. could see fewer July 4 celebrations
WASHINGTON – With Chinese-made fireworks skyrocketing in price and among many imports being recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, some local communities are curtailing their Independence Day celebrations or limiting them to parades and less noisy and spectacular daytime activities.

The cost of Chinese-made fireworks is up 10 to 12 percent, according to large U.S. distributors like Atlas fireworks, one of the largest in the Northeast. With rising prices come decreased sales.
Atlas owner Stephen Pelkey saw 2006 sales drop 3 percent over the previous year and expects the downturn to continue due mostly to price, but also to concerns about safety.
Last week, as WND reported, the CPSC recalled more Chinese imports, including fireworks products intended for July 4 Independence Day celebrations.
The recalls included more than 13,000 300 Shot Saturn Missiles Battery Fireworks that the CPSC says can travel in unexpected and dangerous directions, posing special hazards to eyes and bystanders. In addition, the CPSC recalled about 4,000 500 gram mine/shell devices considered unstable and posing burn and other injury hazards.
Almost all fireworks purchased in the U.S. for July 4 celebrations are manufactured in China.
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Portsmouth, N.H., recreation director Rus Wilson said that town's fireworks display this July 4 will likely be smaller than previous years because of the higher prices.
Some see it is ironic that America's "Independence Day" celebrations would be curtailed because of "dependence" on fireworks from China.
"Americans equate the Fourth of July with celebrating and fireworks," says Julie Heckman, executive director of the America Pyrotechnics Association. "Fireworks are, historically, a symbol of American independence."
But they have also been big business.
Americans spent more than $900 million to purchase fireworks in 2006. Most of that amount was by consumers for backyard displays. Heckman estimates Americans will spent about $925 million this year. But they won't get as much for their money.
The growth in recent years is largely due to the fact that fireworks are now legal in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
As Americans think about ways to celebrate Independence Day, they may want to consider that many Chinese fireworks are produced by slave labor – or near slave-labor conditions.
Recently, even the official Chinese media reported 468 slaves freed from deplorable conditions in which dozens died. Some 120 were arrested in a four-day crackdown on slave industries that include the production of fireworks. Many of the slaves were children, some as young as 8, who had been kidnapped. The slaves were near starvation and many had been beaten.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

UK fireworks shortage after Chinese factories shut for Olympics

Bonfire night could go off with a whimper rather than a bang for some as Britain feels the knock-on effect of factories being shut down in China for the Olympics.
More than 80 per cent of fireworks used in celebrations in the UK are imported from China but the volume imported this year is significantly down on last year.
Industry experts estimate the amount of fireworks on sale is 30 per cent down on a normal year which will leave last minute buyers with a much reduced choice.
They blamed the Chinese decision to shut down factories as it tried to reduce the cloud of pollution hanging over Beijing during the Olympic Games.
Robin Treacher, spokesman for Huddersfield-based Standard Fireworks, one of the UK's most popular brands, said it had secured enough fireworks.
But he said: "There is a myth that China used all its fireworks for the Olympics. That's not true. But there is quite a shortage because of restrictions in China. A lot of factories were asked to stop production because of their environmental concerns and there was less shipping.
"The best records we can ascertain are that the shipping was 30 per cent down on what's required for November 5.
"Those leaving it until this weekend will find that they just don't have the variety and choice. People will see a lot less on offer."
Firework production in the UK has virtually disappeared and is now almost completely dependent on China.
Ken Fifield, one of the directors of Phoenix Fireworks in Wrotham, Kent said: "There was actually very little supply coming in for about four months. It's starting to clear now as some of the ports are now shipping, but it's a bit of too little, too late.
"We imported from Europe rather than China this year. We saw this coming last January and filled our stores up then so we're now able to re-sell on to some of the professional firework companies who've been caught short."
Simon Cansick, from Hi-5 Fireworks, based near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, added: "There is a shortage, but we've been dealing direct with the Chinese for quite a while and we made sure our shipment got out.
"However, I know some display companies which if they haven't run out yet, they will be very close."
Only two weeks ago 500 massive fireworks containers packed with fireworks were still sitting in China waiting to be shipped and it is unlikely all of them have arrived in time.
Earlier this year the US experienced a shortage of fireworks for July 4 celebrations. Up to 15 per cent of the fireworks expected from China did not reach the US because of the closure of the Chinese port of Sanshui following a series of warehouse explosions.