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:
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.