So pretty, but handle with care

Christmas lights bear warning of lead

wash after handling

November 30, 2007|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN REPORTER

As you're decorating the house for the holidays, you might notice a little warning label on the strand of lights you're hanging on the window.

The label most likely says the lights may contain lead, a known neurotoxin that can be hazardous to your health, or in some cases, deadly.

But before you toss those lights out and rush out to buy new ones, realize that regardless of whether the lights are made in China or not, most holiday lights contain some level of lead. The risks, however, can be reduced by washing your hands thoroughly after handling the lights.

"I think of all the risks from lead, such as lead in homes and lead in jewelry being the two most harmful, there are other sources of lead poisoning that should be of greater concern to people," said Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

"I know of no case where a child has been poisoned by the lead in Christmas lights," Norton said. "You need to be mindful of it, however. Don't let children chew on the lights. Don't let them put it in their mouth. Wash your hands carefully."

In a year when consumers are fretting about toxic toys containing lead, experts say they should also be aware of, but not overreact to, the dangers lurking in holiday lights.

Holiday lights and most everyday household appliances contain some level of lead because cords are insulated with polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. The lead in PVC makes the plastic more flexible. Manufacturers say all PVC contains some sort of metal-based stabilizer - lead, cadmium or tin - to make the cords more heat resistant.

The reason you might see warning labels on the lights is because California requires a label on just about anything that could post a small risk for cancer or birth defects. Manufacturers who sell products in California put the label on everything they sell across the country to make the process easier.

According to the Children's Health Environmental Coalition, the amount of lead in lights, artificial Christmas trees made of PVC and other consumer products can vary considerably - and that it is not clear if the amount of lead released from holiday lights poses a health risk.

To be on the safe side, the CHEC recommends:

Do not allow children to handle holiday lights.

Adults should wash hands thoroughly after handling the lights.

Search for lights or trees that are toxin- and lead-free.

Do not assume that holiday lights that don't carry a warning label are lead-free.

Older lights are likely to contain lead.

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