Lead dust and Christmas lights

xmas_lights

Since the holidays are just around the corner, we thought we’d post a little public service announcement about Christmas tree lights and lead dust.

Take a peek at your holiday light strings and you may notice that some of them feature lead warning labels. The plastic coating on holiday light wires is typically made of PVC, and PVC often contains lead. There are actually some practical reasons for this. For example, lead provides the plastic with flexibility, and flexible plastic is less likely to crack. Cracked plastic can expose the wires beneath, and exposed wires can potentially lead to fires. Lead can also help the plastic coating retain that Christmas-tree-green color, and that makes the cords less visible as they hang on your tree. Unfortunately, the lead doesn’t necessarily remain in the plastic, so it can be shed as lead dust. (Artificial Christmas trees made of PVC can also shed lead dust, which can land on the presents beneath the tree, just FYI. )

Since lead is known to cause neurological damage, especially in small children and pets, the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC) recommends the following:

  • Don’t allow children to play with or handle strings of holiday lights
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after hanging your holiday lights
  • Avoid holiday lights manufactured in China where lead use in consumer products is not regulated
  • Assume that all holiday lights contain lead unless otherwise labeled

California is the only state in U.S. that requires lead warning labels on holiday lights, so lead-containing lights manufactured in other states may not be labeled as such. Also, if you have owned your lights for several years, they may have been manufactured before lead warning labels were required. If you aren’t sure if your holiday lights contain lead, you can always give them a quick swab with a lead test kit, available at most hardware and home improvement stores.

The CHEC Safer Products Store sells a set of holiday lights which, according to the manufacturer, is lead -free except for the cord:

http://checnet.greenhome.com/products/kids/art_supplies/107864/

The great thing about these lights is that they are LED lights, so in addition to containing very little lead, they are extremely energy efficient and should last for about twenty years.

Happy holidays!

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8 thoughts on “Lead dust and Christmas lights

  1. Stephanie and Julio, I’m curious to know how you guys deal with lead dust in general. I recently moved my family back into our 1916 bungalow and have found myself constantly worrying about the threat disturbed lead dust. When we first bought the place we sanded and refinished our wood floors, which were painted over. We used dustless sanders, but there was still a good amount dust dispersed throughout the home. We did our best to clean everything up, but because we didn’t have any children at the time we didn’t really worry about it. You two seem to have a good amount of knowledge regarding safety and take hazardous precautions very seriously, so I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this subject.

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    1. Benjamin,

      We agree that lead dust is scary. The fact that you can’t see it makes it even worse. I could go on and on with a long-winded answer, but most of what we did could be condensed down to the following three guidelines…

      1) No sanding of lead paint. In the places where we’ve had to deal with painted wood, we’ve tried to either strip it in place or pull it off the wall to take it to get stripped at the dip & strip.

      2) Where we did have to disturb lead paint (e.g. the kitchen demo), we were careful to tape up plastic and seal the area off as much as possible until it was cleaned up.

      3) After doing #2, we used a shop vac with both a high-filtration bag (instead of letting particles fly around loose in the chamber,) and a HEPA filter. We also got some extensions for the vac, so that we could send the exhaust out the window, instead of disturbing the air in the room.

      We couldn’t and didn’t follow every step perfectly every time, but that’s what we aspired to do. The biggie, as you already know, is sanding, since that sends a fine dust all over the place. Since there’s nothing you can do about going back in time, I might recommend wet wiping windowsills and other horizontal surfaces, as well as vacuuming all of your floors and walls with a HEPA-filtered vacuum.

      At least you took some precautions in using a dustless sander. So many people don’t think about this stuff at all…

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  2. And that is the other thing we did before moving in, Benjamin. We wiped every surface in the house (floors, walls, ceilings) with a damp cloth. About a year or so after we moved in, we had a friend who was working for lead detection company come over to our house for an inspection. He told us multiple times before walking through the house with his little gadget that given the age of our house, we should be prepared for him to find lots of lead. He was completely perplexed when the readings showed lead levels in our house to be undetectable.

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    1. To both Stephanie and Julia,

      Thank you so much for answering. If I could back, I would have definitely taken the precautions a lot more seriously. And yes, I’ve wet wiped just about every surface multiple times since moving back in. You know, you two are pretty amazing. The majority of people I know and have spoken to could care less about lead/safety, but nowadays it’s the first thing I think about before starting any project.

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