“Lead poisoning remains the number one preventable environmental health concern for children in America today. ” 5/11/11 letter from Louise M. Slaughter & Robert A. Brady, Members of Congress

From a parent’s perspective, many holidays have hazards to worry about. Who hasn’t picked up the paper during the winter holidays and seen a story of Christmas tree fire that destroyed a family home? And everyone has heard the Halloween tale (an “urban myth”?) of razor blades placed in apples.

While no one wants to focus on worries in the midst of celebrating, as hip, modern, “green” parents it’s our job to be informed. There’s so much information available – with the Internet at our fingertips, it’s our responsibility to know as much as we can about everything – right?

From the perspective of a parent of children with lead poisoning – an environmental illness that causes permanent damage to the brain and associated learning disabilities and other concerns – every holiday is seen through a slightly different lens…

What sets lead hazards apart from other concerns is that—as with nearly all lead hazards—exposure to holiday lead hazards is totally preventable. In fact – childhood lead poisoning is the most expensive* preventable environmental illness in terms of the impact on our country. It’s easy to protect your children from the many sources if you merely stay alert and do your “green parent homework”.

Following are some my rules for keeping my children safe during Halloween.

The greatest concern is with the items marked as “not intended for children.” If an item is sold as an adult costume or a house decoration it is likely not regulated and can – in some cases – legally have unsafe amounts of lead [and other toxic chemicals!]

  • Adult costume elements (masks, swords, scepters, costume jewelry, etc.) These items can be painted with lead paint. The soft rubber items (like that favorite gorilla mask!) can actually have lead throughout the material as a fire retardant and as a chemical used to make the rubber supple.
    Alternative: Homemade costumes (using safe art supplies like natural fabrics and paper mache) or purchasing costumes intended for children, marked nontoxic and regulated for lead (avoid items manufactured in countries with a history of regulatory non-compliance.)
  • Decorative elements for your home. These items can (legally!) be painted with lead paint or treated with lead to be fire retardant or pliable. I avoid store-bought rubber spiders, tombstones, skulls, and any plastic, cast resin or foam yard ornaments.
    Alternatives: consider making these decorations yourself. Come on—what’s more fun than carving a real pumpkin?! With homemade decorations, your children will have more fun with the process and pride in the end result! We paint our windows with non-toxic window paints; the children love turning old sheets into tiny ghosts to hang from our trees and then there’s the homemade scarecrow on the porch and construction paper cutout bats and pumpkins!
  • Holiday Lighting Strings of holiday lighting are considered “not intended for children” – most even come in packages with “California Prop 65” warnings.** Holiday lighting strands can be especially toxic because not only are they often manufactured with lead (to keep the plastic or rubber strand supple) but they can also be coated with 100% bio-available powdered lead “dust” applied as a fire retardant(!!) ***
    My advice: if you must use holiday lighting, know that it can be extremely toxic to children. Make sure they do not handle it at all. For adults stringing up lighting – wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Alternatives: We decorate with homemade decorative strands – paper and string, and seasonal greenery (strands of crab apples and paper bats, etc.), and we use candles with lead-free wicks in our pumpkins.


Enjoy child-safe celebrating!

For more information on avoiding lead hazards during the holidays check out the “Holiday” page at http://www.mychildrenhaveleadpoisoning.com



Tamara Rubin

Winner of the Inaugural National Healthy Homes Hero award presented in June 2011 by a consortium of Federal agencies (including the EPA, CDC, HUD, USDA and U.S. Department of Energy), Tamara Rubin has been a childhood lead poisoning prevention advocate since her children were poisoned in 2005.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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