By Safe Baby Healthy Child founders Sandra Blum and Samantha Fox Olson
Holiday Lights Contain Toxic Heavy Metals
Did you know holiday lights contain lead and other toxic chemicals?
For example, lead and PVC is used to insulate the wiring because it makes the plastic more flexible, not prone to fray or break. This is meant to avoid the risk of electrocution. However, excessive levels of lead have been found on the surface of Christmas light wiring. (See our post Lead in Christmas Lights for details on how all four popular brands of Christmas lights tested were found to have shockingly excessive levels.)
This year, Tamara Rubin of #LeadSafeMama, tested holiday lights from Target and Walmart that were labeled lead-free but not RoHS compliant. She found extraordinarily high levels of antimony on different parts of the lights. This is one set of results from the plastic base of the lights. See others here.
- Arsenic (As): 60 +/- 24 ppm
- Chromium (Cr): 198 +/- 124 ppm
- Antimony (Sb): 36,700 +/- 1,500 ppm
- Bromine (Br): 97,900 +/- 4,000 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 110 +/- 27 ppm
- Vanadium (V): 827 +/- 316 ppm
- Titanium (Ti): 2,012 +/- 594 ppm
ROHS Compliant Holiday Lights
One way around this dilemma is to buy RoHS compliant lights. But it is quite frustrating to find these in the United States.
The RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) symbol indicates that the product restricts certain dangerous substances commonly used in electronics and electronic equipment. The RoHS is a European Union directive that states electronic equipment cannot contain more than a certain amount of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants. See here for more information.
Although RoHS compliant electronics still may contain a very small amounts of lead, the maximum levels can not be more than 1000 ppm.
While it is easy to find RoHS compliant Christmas lights in Europe, it is almost impossible to find them clearly labeled in the US. I have contacted a few manufacturers and sellers in the US but the ones who got back to me don’t know what RoHS is and the others did not reply.
Most cords in the US may contain high amounts of lead, so you ALWAYS WANT TO KEEP THEM AWAY FROM CHILDREN! If you live in California, you will see that product manuals for your computer, TV, lamp etc. have the following warning: “Handling the power cord on this product will expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. WASH HANDS AFTER HANDLING.”
Here are some guidelines on how to properly handle Christmas lights and cords, most especially if they are not RoHS compliant or if around babies and children:
- Wear gloves and only let adults handle.
- Keep all lights at a high enough level that curious toddlers cannot reach.
- Wash hands after touching any Christmas lighting.
- Be extra careful when you are out at relatives/friends houses. They may have lots of interesting lights in reach for your curious baby.
- If you can’t hide power cords from children, you can wrap cords in cotton cloth.
Who is Selling RoHS-Compliant Christmas Lights?
IKEA used to carry them and may still but a recent attempt to confirm was unsuccessful. A company called Environmental Lights used to carry RoHS-compliant Christmas Lights, but no longer.
However, We Have Great NEWS!
A wide variety of holiday lights that are RoHS compliant are available from HolidayLEDS. To ensure the particular string of lights that you are interested in is in fact RoHS compliant, click on the Details tab on the individual product page and in the right-hand column it will state if the product is RoHS compliant or not.
Remember, a product that is RoHS compliant does not mean it is completely free of toxic chemicals. It means the product is tested to meet a threshold that is much lower than what you may find in lights that are untested and have no restrictions on the type and amount of hazardous chemicals used.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published Nov. 12, 2010 by SafBaby’s Co-Founder, Sandra Blum and has been updated for accuracy.