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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Tots, toys and toxic paint don’t mix

As parents, we do the best we can to ensure our children have the very best start in the world. We may breastfeed them, make their baby food from scratch, buy organic and whole foods, childproof our homes, teach them not to talk to strangers, and a myriad of other things. We trust that when we buy age-appropriate toys for our children, that they will be safe and not pose a choking hazard nor contain toxic elements like lead-based paint. Apparently we are trusting the wrong people.

Photo courtesy juhansonin
Photo courtesy juhansonin

Stephanie of Adventures in Babywearing wrote an interesting post yesterday about her desire to start making homemade gifts for children in light of the recent toy recalls – first with Thomas & Friends and lead paint, then with Fisher Price toys and lead paint and now with Mattel and a concern over magnets and again, lead-based paint. (Are you sensing a disturbing trend here?) All of which, I must add, are made in China. She then brought up the possibly lesser-known fact that Melissa & Doug toys are also made in China.

For those of you unfamiliar with Melissa & Doug, they make educational (including several wooden) toys. We only recently discovered them, but are big fans of them in this house.

I bought Ava the Melissa & Doug Cutting Food set for her birthday this year. She likes to play with it, as does her 8-month-old teething brother Julian, who loves to chew on the pieces of food. I figured they are made of wood, so they’ve got to be better for him to chew on than plastic (with who knows what kinds of chemicals in it). But in light of this scare over toys made in China perhaps I am wrong to assume that.

I checked the label on the bottom of the Melissa & Doug Cutting Food crate to verify that they were made in China (which is true) and also saw “All Melissa & Doug* products are carefully crafted by hand, using non-toxic coatings, and meet or exceed all U.S. toy testing standards.” That is a relief. However, the fact still remains that even the toys you are buying because you think they seem more natural, like wooden toys from Melissa & Doug, are being mass produced (under apparently sub-par safety standards) in factories in China. According to an MSNBC article, “…about 80 percent of toys sold worldwide (are) made in China.” 80 percent!

So where do we go from here? What can we do to product our children?

1) Stay on the lookout for product recalls Since most of us can’t afford to get rid of all of our children’s toys and start anew, we need to be on the lookout for any new toy recalls. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission site is a good source for recall information.

2) Sign petitions to help bring about change. After the recalls for the Thomas toys and then the Fisher Prices toys, MomsRising created an online petition to let Congress and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) know that, “Testing children’s products for toxic chemicals must be a priority. No more toxic toys and children’s products!” You can sign the petition here.

3) Buy “green” or Made in the USA toys — Here are a few resources to help you get started. Willow Tree Toys sells European Waldorf wooden toys that encourage creative, imaginative thinking. While some of their toys are made in China, they state, “We have received safety assurances from the toy companies represented in our store. The products are lead free, non-toxic and have passed all European and American safety tests.” You also have the option of searching their site for toys made specifically in the USA or in Europe. Green Toys Inc. “makes a line of classic children’s toys constructed of bioplastic made from renewable, sustainable resources like corn (yep, you read that right). This will help reduce fossil fuel use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improving the overall health and happiness of the planet. All Green Toys Brand products are manufactured and assembled in the USA!” Still Made in USA is a site with a list of several toy and game companies that are Made in the USA. I’m bookmarking this one. What a great resource!

4) Test for lead paint This might seem a bit extreme, but it’s always good to know your options. If you want to test any of your children’s toys (or anything else for that matter) for lead paint, there’s a kit – LeadCheck Lead Testing Swab Kits – that you can purchase. I’m sure other kits are on the market as well, but this is the first one I came across. Also thanks to Steph, I found out about a new blog called Not China“an exploration into the dangers of trading with China.” There is a lot of eye-opening information over there (some of which I’d already heard about) that will certainly make me think twice about buying China-made products. To help spread the word about the blog, they are currently having a contest and offering a $50 gift card to Remember, whether it be toy recalls or anything else in the world, knowledge is power. Be vigilant, arm yourself with information and help protect your kids.

*Edited to add: I wrote to Melissa & Doug last night to express my concerns about toys made in China and lead paint and here’s what they had to say about their product…

Hi Amy – Yes, we definitely appreciate and understand your concern. Please be assured, we test for lead VERY frequently. It’s quite possible to make great quality children’s items in China, which meet all safety regulations, but the key point is that you have to test and inspect very frequently to be sure that your factories are always following your instructions explicitly. I assure you that’s exactly what we do. From our experience, the key to doing this correctly is not simply to insist that your factories follow your instructions, but then to go one step further and to AUDIT, INSPECT, AND TEST very frequently. That is the most important part of the process, and it’s something our company has always taken VERY seriously. Thanks again for asking, and for your support also. Your Dedicated Customer Service Team Melissa & Doug, Inc. 800-284-3948 Monday-Friday 8:00-5:00 EST

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