With all of the news about finding lead in toys, one possible lead source that hasn’t gotten much attention is the lead found in strands of holiday lights. Throughout the year, many of us keep our festive lights in a box, waiting for the holiday season. The lights we pull out when we decorate our homes may be many years old. Some strands are in better shape than others.
Researchers measured lead levels in indoor/outdoor sets of Christmas lights from different manufacturers, some from this year, and some dating all the way back to the 1970’s. The results are published in the December 2008 Journal of Environmental Health. All of the sets tested positive for lead. It didn’t matter what year the lights were made or how many years they had been used. All had levels above the EPA limit for windowsills. There is no EPA limit for strands of lights.
The lead is found in the insulation on the cords. Manufacturers use lead in the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic jacketing to make the sets durable. Up to 5 percent of the jacketing is lead. Lead is frequently used in PVC to make it more resistant to the weathering effects of heat, light, and moisture. It’s not just in Chirstmas light plastic, you’ll also find high levels of lead in the appliance cords in your home. I hope that as attention is called to this issue, manufacturers will step up the search for better alternatives.
Avoiding the Lead
The dangers of lead come when the lead gets into the mouth. Children shouldn’t mouth electrical cords of any kind, of course. But the more common exposure would be from handling the cords and then putting the hands in the mouth. I suggest washing the hands after hanging lights and before enjoying holiday treats. Make the time festive with music, holiday aromas, stories, and laughter — but save the food and drink until the cord handling is done.
While you’re thinking about holiday lights, cosnider choosing LED lights when it comes time to replace the lights you have. They are a nice way to celebrate, with a nod both to past traditions and to a wiser, more sustainable future. And no more burned out bulbs!
LED holiday lights emit very little heat, don’t dry out trees, rarely burn out (they can last up to 50,000 hours!), cost 90 percent less to power than traditional incandescant lights, are safer, and reduce greenhouse emissions. And if we all switched, the US Department of Energy has estimated that we could save enough energy to power 200,000 homes for an entire year. Now that’s something to celebrate!