CPSC Notice of Violations (NOVs) October 2012 to May 2022

The ubiquitous ‘Dragon’ Artillery Shell – Assorted W515B. has been around for decades, and is a vestige from the time all of the fireworks manufacturers in China were state owned enterprises (SOEs). This value priced reloadable shell kit typically contains a mortar consisting of a convolute paper tube with a label attached to a black plastic base, and six (6) round aerial shells. The user places the mortar on a hard, flat surface and loads an aerial shell into the mortar with the green ignition fuse out of the mortar muzzle. Upon ignition, the fuse burns 3-9 seconds and fires the shell into the sky where it bursts with colors and sometimes a report. The process is repeated with the remaining shells one at a time, hence the term “Reloadable Kits. The aerial shells in these reloadable kits are limited by Federal regulations to 60 grams total pyrotechnic composition, with 130mg of explosive composition “intended to create an audible report”, however some contain substantially more of the explosive composition than permitted. This particular W515B was recalled because of Pyrotechnic Materials Overload [16 CFR 1500.17]. Source: CPSC

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Office of Compliance publishes a spreadsheet with the Notices of Violations (NOVs) it has issued for consumer products that have been found to be non-compliant. The NOVs state the products found to be non-compliant, reference the appropriate Federal law or regulation, and the corrective action the manufacturer or importers is required to take.

The latest update is as of May 2022 and the first NOV in the database is from October 2012.

A review of this database revealed, the CPSC issued 21,956 NOVs of which 698 were for fireworks devices, novelties or clacker balls.

Most of the companies in the database only had one or a few NOVs issued, but a few had many more. Here are the numbers for the Top 6 companies in the NOV database:

  • Ninety-eight (98) – Company 1
  • Forty-three (43) – Company 2
  • Twenty-six (26) – Company 3
  • Twenty-four (24) – Company 4
  • Fifteen (15) – Companies 5 & 6

These six (6) companies accounted for 221 of the 698 NOVs issued for fireworks, novelties and clacker balls in this period, or 32% of the total.

This multiple tube aerial fireworks device (cake) was recalled because of Pyrotechnic Materials Overload [16 CFR 1500.17]. Cakes consist of a group of convolute paper tubes, each with a clay plug in the bottom. The tubes are fused sequentially with the first tube also having an ignition fuse. Each tube as a lift charge of blackpowder and an aerial shell.. When the cake is ignited, the aerial shells fire from each tube in a sequence with the shells bursting in the sky with sound and color. Cakes are limited to 500 grams of total pyrotechnic and explosive compositions, including the lift charges, with no more than 130mg of explosive composition “intended to create an audible report” in each shell. Source: CPSC

The company with the most NOVs is, as one might expect, the largest consumer fireworks importer in the country. It makes sense that the more consumer products a company enters into the marketplace, the greater likelihood more of those products will not be in compliance; in particular for mostly handmade products from China like fireworks.

What is surprising is the next largest importers in the USA had none or only a few NOVs during the same time period. The next companies to receive the most NOVs are significantly smaller importers.

Premium priced reloadable kits typically have canister shells that are larger and heavier than ball shells in the value priced reloadable kits. These reloadable kits generally have mortars made of a fiberglass tube with a clay plug on a wooden or plastic base, or high-density polyethene (HDPE) mortars. The canisters shells have a strong paper tube as the casing with a pressed clay plug in the bottom and cement/gypsum plug in the top. This extra weight and confinement produces a more powerful explosion, particularly if the break charge contains more explosive composition than permitted. No matter the shape of the shell, the 60 gram total pyrotechnic composition, with 130mg of explosive composition “intended to create an audible report” remains the standard. This particular canister reloadable kit was recalled because of Fireworks Blowout / Burnout [16 CFR 1507.6]. Source: CPSC

The following are the corrective actions the CPSC required of the manufacturers or importers in the NOVs:

  • Eighty-six (86) – Consumer Level Recall (RSSC)
  • One hundred seventy (170) – Correct Future Production (CFP)
  • One (1) – Distribution Level Recall (DSSC)
  • Four hundred forty-one (441) – Stop Sale and Correct Future Production (SSC)
The three basic explosive and pyrotechnic compositions in modern Consumer Fireworks aerial shells in reloadable kits and cakes. The lift charge is blackpowder (bottom). It is black from the charcoal and granular i size and shape. The break charge (top left) is a very fine (<100 mesh) gray powder., which is indicative of flash powder. If the break charge was the required blackpowder or an equivalent, it would also be black from the charcoal. The stars (top right) are small balls, cubes or random pellets and typically a dark gray to black, however these are coated with the break charge and thus have the same lighter gray color. Source: Author

These are the CPSC numbers for the NOVs regulations cited:

Smoke devices can sometimes explode, often upon ignition. The explosion sends burning composition and debris out in all directions resulting in sever burns to anyone nearby. The cause is a fine metal powder like aluminum that has contaminated the smoke composition,. This problem can be corrected by keeping chemicals used in smoke compositions away from any fine metals. Examining these chemicals prior to production as well as samples from finished smoke devices using X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometers (XRFs) reduce the chances defective smoke devices reach the consumer. Source: CPSC

The specific types of fireworks devices issued NOVs are a bit difficult to discern because in many instances the only name of the product and a product ID is provided. Skimming the names, it appears the vast majority of NOVs issued are for aerial multiple-tube devices (cakes) and aerial shell reloadable kits.

Note: some fireworks devices may have failed multiple standards, however in this database only a single failed standard is provided.

These firecrackers were recalled because of Pyrotechnic Materials Overload [16 CFR 1500.17].. Firecrackers, no matter how big the external casing, are limited to 50 mg of explosive composition “intended to create an audible report” per cracker. Source: CPSC


What is telling is supposedly random samples from each shipment of every fireworks device issued a NOV by the CPSC were tested in China by an independent, third party testing lab. The lab issued a test report stating the samples from that shipment complied with all of the applicable regulations in 16 CFR, as well as any applicable industry standards prior to shipment.

The importer then issued a General Certificate of Conformity (GCC) based on this test report; yet when a few samples from an infinitesimal fraction of the total fireworks devices imported were tested by the CPSC, the samples from the same shipments failed.

No testing program is perfect, and there are often significant variations in the quality and consistency in a shipment of handmade products like fireworks devices; however when the largest third party testing lab routinely reports about 7% of samples from shipments fail their tests, that is indicative of a serious issue with quality control and compliance by the manufacturers.

And when the CPSC issues NOVs for fireworks devices that supposedly passed testing in China, it begs the question: “How reliable is the third party testing program?”

The importers often point to the Chinese manufacturers as being responsible for quality control and compliance, however the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) of 1972 addresses this issue very clearly:

15 U.S.C. § 2052, Sec 3(a) (11) MANUFACTURER.–The term ‘‘manufacturer’’ means any person who manufactures or imports a consumer product.

Thus, for consumer products subject to the CPSA, including fireworks devices, it is the importer’s duty to ensure compliance with the regulations, not the overseas manufacturer.

The CPSC codified the policy regarding the obligations and responsibilities of importers in § 16 CFR 1009.3 Policy on imported products, importers, and foreign manufacturers.

The CPSC has no formal guidelines for manufacturers and importers to evaluate the potential risks and hazards associated with the thousands of consumer products and hazardous substances subject to the Federal laws and regulations under their jurisdiction. The Federal laws and regulations were enacted with the understanding and expectation that manufacturers and importers have the knowledge of how their products are designed and manufactured, as well as how the general public stores, handles, uses and misuses their products in and around their homes from the normal course of business, and thus are in the best position to assess the potential risks and hazards associated with their products.

Generally, the CPSC recommends manufacturers and importers consider:

(1) How the contents and form of the product might cause an injury,
(2) the product’s intended handling, use, and storage, and
(3) any accidents that might foreseeably happen during handling, use, or storage that could hurt the purchaser, user or others, including young children who might get into the package of the product.

Given many of the fireworks related injuries occur year after year involving the same or similar fireworks devices, often as a result of misuse but also due to manufacturing defects, with most of the serious injuries and fatalities involving fireworks devices that do not comply with the Federal regulations, in particular Pyrotechnic Materials Overload [16 CFR 1500.17], there is plenty of room for improvement.

Certainly the quality of consumer fireworks has improved over the decades, in particular since the formation of the third party testing program when failure rates were significantly higher (36% in 1994); however at the same time, the general public is also using more consumer fireworks than ever before and many of the fireworks devices have become both larger and more powerful.

Overall the injuries related to fireworks that are reported to the CPSC had been declining since the 1970s, however the estimates have been increasing over the last 16 years (See CPSC Data June 28, 2022). More troubling are increases in serious injuries and fatalities.

Few, if any of the American importers have any formal testing program to check for compliance of the fireworks devices once received from China. At best, most importers might occasionally take a few fireworks devices from some shipments out to the parking lot to shoot or hold demonstrations for prospective buyers.

Random testing of some shipments in the USA received would improve the credibility of the third party testing program in China. So would knowing the test protocols and procedures and substantiation of the handwritten test reports in China with photos and videos of the examinations and tests.

Regular reports that show the pass/fail rates of specific products and each participating factory as well as testers would also be useful to identify potential issues in order to take corrective action.

A more transparent and reliable testing system would substantially improve both credibility and compliance, which in turn would likely reduce fireworks related injuries. Improvements to the industry standards, more detailed warnings and instructions, and a coordinated public education program would reduce fireworks related injuries even more.

What is also revealing is that a few of the largest fireworks importers have very few or even zero NOVs, while smaller importers have many more NOVs. If the volume of NOVs correlated directly to the volume of fireworks devices imported from China, and everything else was equal, one would expect importers to have NOVs corresponding to that volume.

The rate of NOVs does not appear to correspond to the volume of fireworks devices imported by the various companies seems to indicate there are other factors beside volume involved.

One known factor is the CPSC may take samples of fireworks devices from an importer after a report of a serious injury or fatality attributed to a fireworks device importers by that importer. Other factors are complaints and reports to the CPSC from consumers, media reports of incidents involving fireworks devices, follow-up investigations from data gathered by the CPSC National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) and CPSC Office of Import Surveillance (EXIS) levels and experience in comparison to the volume of consumer products being imported.

Another factor why some of the larger importers have fewer NOVS is they have agents working on their behalf at the factories in China. These agents typically facilitate production and logistics, but they also assist the factories with quality assurance and inspection from raw materials to finished products.

Agents may cost the importer a little more and slow production somewhat, however the improved quality results in fewer NOVs, product recalls and presumably fireworks related injuries.

CPSC Recall Notices for Fireworks

Here are some of the CPSC Recall Notices for Fireworks: