In all the rigmarole of the holiday season, you might not have heard about the consumer safety hazard associated with Christmas lights (or noticed the fine print warnings on their boxes).
It’s no secret that lead is used in light strings’ polyvinyl chloride insulation to prevent deterioration and to guard against fire. But what is a new development this year is the revelation that handling the wiring while you “deck the halls” may result in significant lead exposure.
According to CNN, laboratory tests using the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s wipe test for lead in polyvinyl chloride revealed that the amount of surface lead on Christmas light strands “far exceeded” CPSC’s recommended exposure limit for children. Granted, as the manufacturers vehemently exclaim: light strands are not children’s toys—they are not intended to be used by children, who face the greatest health risks from these hazards. After all, little Tommy and Jane should be hanging up their ornaments—not balancing precariously on a kitchen chair trying to wrap lights around tree branches. Still, the last time I checked, no matter how old you are, there is no “safe” exposure level to this highly toxic metal. (For the record, of the four brands tested—Wal-Mart, Sylvania, Philips, and GE— Wal-Mart-brand light strands were the worst, with surface lead levels exceeding 8 times the recommended CPSC-limit for children.)
What’s the bottom line? This January, as you face the ever-dreaded task of dismantling your light display, keep the kiddies occupied with their new toys (assuming, of course, that those toys aren’t also tainted with lead). As for you, manufacturers are recommending that you wear gloves and wash your hands after handling the light strands, and I’d suggest you heed their advice.
Belke R, Hunter G (CNN.com). Christmas lights found with potentially unsafe levels of lead. December 10, 2007.