Nothing says Merry Christmas quite like Lead Poisoning

When you think of the holiday season, what comes to mind?

Family? Friends? Christmas trees? Decorations? Presents? Candles? Food? Mistletoe?
How about lead, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other toxins?

In Danika Carter’s post All I want for Christmas is Lead-free Decorations, she points out that most artificial Christmas trees are made from PVC (vinyl) and the many problems associated with PVC.

• It off gasses
• contains phthalates
• breaks down in heat and sun
• contains lead which becomes lead dust and spreads throughout your home
• Doesn’t biodegrade and is difficult to recycle

This is one of the reasons we are opting for a real tree this year (which we are finally going to get tomorrow – can’t wait!). :)

Danika also points out that reports have shown that “the cords on most holiday lights contain lead at higher levels that what is allowable for toys.” A Michigan-based group called The Ecology Center tested 68 light sets and found four out of five of those sets contained detectable levels of lead.

While most people don’t stick electrical cords in their mouths, they do touch them with their hands (and then touch food or their faces?) and all of the twisting and turning the cords while wrapping them around the tree or — in my house, the banister — can lead to lead dust in the air.

Lead is a potent poison that can affect individuals at any age. Children with developing bodies are especially vulnerable because their rapidly developing nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead. Exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child’s development and behavior. Even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive and irritable. Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, delayed growth and hearing loss. At high levels, lead can cause permanent brain damage and even death.

To avoid possible lead contamination, it is advised that people either wear gloves when handling holiday lights or wash their hands afterward. I’m not sure what you can do about the possible lead dust in the air other than avoid strands of lights that contain lead in the first place. Or just don’t decorate at all. Yeah, bah humbug and all of that. :P

Actually, Alicia from The Soft Landing had some tips for safer holiday lights. “As we discussed in a recent article, locating PVC-free and lead-free light strings proved impossible, so your best bet is to focused on tracking down RoHS compliant products. We found Environmental Lights to be an invaluable source of well-researched options and SAFbaby also confirmed that Ikea offers safer light strands as well.”

Also, word to the wise… Definitely don’t let your 6-month-old sit on the floor surrounded by lights (which she grabs with her hot little hands) so you can take some cute pictures. Uh, yeah, I totally did that when Ava was a baby. Crappy parent award right here! Holla! Ugh.

There is more information available from about the Lead and Holiday Lights studies.

Are you concerned about lead exposure from your tree and/or lights? What changes might you try to make to avoid it?

I’m rethinking my decision to wrap our banister in lights and garland this year. Sure it looks pretty, but when my kids touch it nearly every time they come down the stairs, that ain’t cool, people. That ain’t cool. Maybe I’ll have them wear gloves in the house? Or not. :P Next year I think we will only have lights on the tree in the house. Any other lighted decorations will be outside only. At least that will minimize our exposure a bit. I’m also trying to have my kids wash their hands whenever they handle any lights and cords this year (which is so much better than throwing them into a pile of lights, don’t you think?). ;) Live and learn and then learn some more.

While we’re on the subject of the holidays and learning, don’t forget that you can give your Facebook friends The Gift of Green this holiday season by checking out the One Million Acts of Green Facebook Application. The app allows you to pledge to complete an act of green and posts a cute e-card to your Facebook friend’s wall, perhaps inspiring them to complete an Act of Green too! No worries about lead with One Million Acts of Green. Just good clean, green fun. :)

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation. See what the other ambassadors have to say about One Million Acts of Green: Green and Clean MomGreen Your Décor and Condo Blues.

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Homemade & eco-friendly Christmas tree trimming

Last year I got all crafty and made all of the decorations for our Christmas tree. The mood didn’t strike me this year (although we still have several of our salt dough ornaments from last year), but in case any of you are inspired to create an eco-friendly homemade Christmas tree, I thought I’d repost the blog I wrote a year ago.


Our homemade-decorated tree  12/14/08

Originally posted Dec. 15, 2008

After writing my holiday eco-friendly crafts post, I got this insane great idea that it’d be lots of fun to make all of the decorations for our Christmas tree this year.  I was hoping to involve the kids in the crafting, but my first two attempts – with popcorn garland and cranberry garland – were not as successful as I hoped. Turns out that popcorn is fairly hard to put a needle through and I didn’t want to risk Ava poking the heck out of herself, so she and Julian ate popcorn while I threaded it. The cranberries were a little harder than I would’ve liked too so I did those myself while the kids ate them and then spat them out because they are, of course, very tart. ;)

I also made the star on the top of our tree by cutting it out of a pie tin (super sharp edges) and gluing it to a piece of black paper.

Finally this morning, I decided on a project we could work on together (at least Ava and I could and Julian could help out later) – salt dough ornaments!

Here’s the recipe that I used.

Salt Dough Ornaments

2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 cup water
Optional: 1 tablespoon any type of oil (to make it easier to work with – thanks to Brighid for the tip)

I didn’t have enough sea salt, so I used my kosher salt (after grinding it up in the food processor a bit). It worked just as well. I think table salt is probably what they have in mind for this recipe though.

Mix salt and flour. Add in half the water, then gradually add the remaining water. Knead until the dough is smooth, this can take up to 10 minutes.

I divided up my dough into different segments and used food coloring on some of it.

For flat dough ornaments roll out the dough (to about 1/4 inch thickness) on baking paper, wax paper, or directly on a cookie sheet. Use cookie cutters, cut-out templates, or just use your hands.

Add details to the ornaments with a toothpick and knife.

Don’t forget to use a straw to make a hole so you can hang the ornament. (I forgot to do this on two of mine. Oops!)

Baking: Time varies based on thickness of ornament
Temperature: 325°F.
Time: 20 minutes or until dry – They should be hard to the touch, but not brown.

After they are done baking and cooling, you can paint, add glitter, spray with a clear finish, etc. We chose not to do this and let me tell you why I’m glad we didn’t.
a) because Julian decided to start tasting several of the ornaments
b) because a few, invariably, got dropped or stepped on and broke, but because they don’t have any extra stuff on them, I can just throw them into the composter. (The popcorn and cranberries can go out for the birds when you are done with them or into the compost bin). :)

Finally, add ribbon, yard, string, twine, etc. and your ornaments are ready to hang on the tree or give as gifts.

And now, the pictures…

Ava hard at work 12/14/08 Decorating candy cane ornaments 12/14/08 Ornaments ready to go into the oven  12/14/08

Putting yarn in our ornaments  12/14/08 Finished ornaments  12/14/08 Ava showing Julian how to hang ornaments  12/14/08

A tree on a tree  12/14/08 My little candy cane 12/14/08 Julian gets the hang of it fast  12/14/08

Ava’s happy tree 12/14/08 Last-minute rearranging before bed 12/14/08 Our homemade-decorated tree  12/14/08

I don’t know if we’ll stick with just the homemade decorations on the tree – I think we may add a handful of ornaments we’ve collected over the years – but I will say that despite the extra work involved, I really enjoy the organic-feel and personality that our tree has this year. It’s been a lot of fun. :)

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10 Simple Ways to Green Your Halloween

The commercialism surrounding Halloween seems to be growing every year. Instead of putting out a jack-o-lantern on your front porch and calling it good, nowadays its not Halloween unless you have jack-o-lanterns, cobwebs, skeletons, ghosts, lights, scary music, zombies… (you get the picture). There are entire “Halloween stores” devoted to selling cheap costumes, accessories, and decorations galore – the majority of which are likely manufactured in China.

Halloween doesn’t need to be so over the top though. You can still dress up and decorate and have fun doing it without contributing to the landfills! Here are 10 simple ways to green your Halloween.

  1. Turn costume making into a creative and fun experience for your child. Hunt through the house, at neighborhood garage sales, thrift stores or consignment shops for costumes or costume-worthy items. Enjoy the process and the product! If you’re not feeling creative, host a costume exchange.
  2. Many store-bought costumes and accessories contain toxic chemicals that not only are a potential hazard to your child, but also to the environment and the people who helped to make them. Choose fabrics such as cotton, wool and silk or make costumes yourself from materials you know to be safe.
  3. Make your own non-toxic face paints (another tutorial @ Green Halloween) or your own fake blood, scars and special effects
  4. Give your child a shakable flashlight (which uses no batteries and is powered by the shaking motion) to light his way. For the adult trick-or-treating with the kids, use a crank flashlight to illuminate the way for the kids.
  5. Use a reusable trick-or-treat bag. When I was a kid, we just used a pillow case.
  6. Reverse trick-or-treat to promote fair-trade chocolate and protect the environment or collect pennies for UNICEF.
  7. If you are passing out treats, check out my Halloween Candy Alternative list for some fun ideas (and don’t forget to check out the Nestle boycott list before buying any candy).
  8. Decorate using homemade crafts such as egg carton bats, pumpkins and cats from laundry soap bottles, cereal box luminaries, jack-o-lantern candle craft, or use decorations that can be eaten (pie pumpkins, squash) or composted or used in the garden (hay bales).
  9. Visit a local pumpkin patch to pick out your pumpkin(s).
  10. Turn your pumpkin into a solar-powered jack-o-lantern and use all of the pumpkin. You can make roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice cookies or pumpkin black bean soup, and compost your pumpkin when you are done with it.

A few of the above tips came from Healthy Child, Healthy World – 25 Green Halloween Tips!

Related sites and posts:
Green Halloween Costumes
Green Halloween
Green Talk: Halloween leaves me Hollow
@LisaBorden‘s Guide to being eco-ish over ghoul-ish this Halloween
Chic Mommy: DIY Halloween Costumes

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