The Dangers Of Lead In Christmas Trees And Lights

Everyone loves decorating and relaxing by the Christmas tree, but nothing is more aggravating than putting it together. Whether you have an artificial tree that you have to assemble or a real tree that you have to add strings of lights to, getting that tree up and ready for enjoyment can be a frustrating process. Adding to that frustration is the fact that putting together the tree and stringing the lights can be hazardous to your health.

What you may not know is that the base of artificial trees and the wire and cord of Christmas lights are made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which can contain lead. Some researchers have found significant amounts of the carcinogen in trees and lights, more than what is deemed acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Dangers Of Lead Exposure

Being exposed to lead can pose a serious threat to your health. Here are some of the problems associated with lead:

  • Neurological damage
  • Memory loss
  • Increased risk of fatal heart attack or stroke
  • Weaker bones
  • Higher blood lead levels can lead to high blood pressure and kidney problems in postmenopausal women

You can be exposed to lead just by handling the PVC on an artificial tree or Christmas lights. The PVC can also disintegrate into lead-laced dust that can fall onto Christmas presents, spread into the air and get breathed in.

The amount of lead can vary from tree to tree, and from light strand to light strand. While some researchers have found significant levels of lead in both products, other researchers say that those levels don't pose any significant risk to the health of adults, but can be harmful to the health of children and babies as well as pregnant women.

Prevention

There are some precautions you can take lessen the risks from exposure to lead. Here are a few of them:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after you handle lights and/or assemble an artificial tree.
  • Don't let children handle lights or touch the plastic parts of the tree.
  • Don't put any Christmas gifts underneath the tree until the day before you are ready to open them.
  • Place the tree away from sunlight and heat sources to reduce the risk of dust disintegration.
  • Buy a live Christmas tree instead. Some trees are even certified organic, which means that they don't contain any pesticides.
  • Get your tree tested if you are concerned that it contains lead. Many hardware stores sell lead-detection kits, but they usually only report high levels of lead. You can also get your tree tested at an EPA-certified lab for a more thorough report. Check the National Lead Information Center for a lab near you.
  • Don't buy lights that were made in China or other foreign countries. Lights made in the U.S. will contain less lead because other countries don't regulate or restrict the use of lead in consumer products.
  • Wear gloves when handling Christmas light strands.
  • Never assume that the product does not contain lead just because it isn't labeled. The state of California requires manufacturers to put a warning label on any product that may contain lead.

If you are postmenopausal or menopausal and are worried about your blood lead level increasing, take a daily supplement of 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 1,000 IU of vitamin D. Make sure the supplements are USP-grade, which means they do not contain lead.

Why Is Lead Used For Christmas Trees And Lights?

So if lead is such a health risk, why is it used to make PVC?

  • It reduces the risk of a fire.
  • It increases the flexibility of the PVC plastic, which is important for light strands.
  • It stabilizes the color of the PVC.
  • It prevents the cords from cracking or crumbling.
  • It makes cords resistant to heat, light and water damage.

Lead is also used in the stiff metal wick found on candles, which are another favorite holiday decoration. When the candle is burned, the lead is vaporized into the air and can be harmful to all who breathe it in. Instead of burning regular candles this holiday season, try using flameless candles, which are battery-operated, or use candles that are only made from beeswax.

Unfortunately, Christmas decorations are not the only household products that contain lead. Lead can also be found in some paints and glazes, ceramic dishes, makeup, brass faucets, mini-blinds, hair dye, jewelry and bullets from hunting rifles. The best way to avoid common products that contain lead is to check the label. Although the products may not have warnings on them, read the ingredient list for yourself and find products that are lead-free. 

Although it isn't known just how much lead a person is exposed to through Christmas decorations, it is best to protect yourself and your family from that risk by taking the proper precautions. By doing so, you'll have a safe and worry-free holiday.

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