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Plan would use dogs to detect illegal fireworks

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A state task force formed to address the importation of illegal fireworks has recommended a cargo inspection program using explosives-sniffing dogs.

Sen. Will Espero, co-chairman of the task force, said the state has no program to inspect domestic cargo for illegal explosives. He said he is drafting a bill to start the dog inspection program.

Maritime shippers conduct random checks on less than 5 percent of incoming domestic containers, and do not look for explosives, Espero said. Instead, they check to ensure only that the sender is being charged properly.

"Of the 200,000 containers that are coming in from our domestic ports today, 0 percent are inspected for explosives," Espero said. "The big gaping hole is the domestic containers."

Shipments from foreign ports do get inspected for explosives, and the state Department of Agriculture inspects agricultural products. This year, the Federal Aviation Administration will begin inspecting air shipments.

Experts said they suspect most illegal fireworks reach the islands through domestic containers.

Explosives-sniffing dogs could close that loophole, but startup costs for such a program remain a challenge. It could cost $70,000 to $80,000 a year for each dog and its handler.

Espero is looking at Homeland Security grants for the program and is also working on legislation to give the state Department of Transportation and the state Department of Defense the authority to conduct cargo inspections.

Jerald Farley, executive director of the Consumer Fireworks Safety Association, suggested better enforcement of fireworks laws and uniform state regulations. Oahu’s banning of fireworks while other counties allow them increases the demand for illegal fireworks from the black market, Farley said.

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