Physical harm such as choking on decorations or playing with the outlet where Christmas lights are plugged in are not the only concerns. Surprisingly, toxic chemicals like lead in PVC trees and lights also play a big role in creating an unsafe environment too.
Most artificial trees are made from PVC plastic. Not only is PVC loaded with toxic chemicals, its production also results in emission of dioxin and ethylene dichloride. And to top it off, lead is often used as a stabilizer in PVC to make artificial trees more resistant to light and weathering. Lead has been linked to kidney, liver, neurological and reproductive system damage.
You may not believe it, but some Christmas trees are even required to carry warning labels because they shed lead-laden dust, exposing children to the toxic chemical! Many artificial trees are also treated with flame retardants. But that’s necessary for our safety you say, right? Well not always – even the treated trees can still catch fire.
Real trees make the perfect substitute for a PVC tree. Worried about allergies? Go with fir and spruce varieties – they do not contain irritating resins and can be tolerated by many with sensitivities to pine trees. Fresh trees are a also natural, renewable, reusable, recyclable source, and just think – you’re supporting US farmers and local businesses when you buy live Christmas trees.
If you still prefer to go with an artificial tree, be sure to choose one made from polyethylene (often labeled with “PE”) that hasn’t been treated with flame retardants. If you find a PE tree you like and it has been treated, confirm with the manufacturer if the flame retardants non-halogenated. Check out our PVC-free Christmas Tree Guide for a few options.
- Go with a real tree or a PVC-free artificial tree
- Keep live trees watered to prevent fire hazard
- Place breakable ornaments and string lights toward the top
- Use a baby gate around the tree if needed for crawling babies
- Stabilize the tree by using a large enough base for its size and installing a hook in the ceiling or wall and tying the treetop to the hook with twine or wire
Toxic chemicals are also found in Christmas lights. Most are made encased in PVC and lead is specifically chosen as the main stabilizer for the electrical wiring because of its flame retardant nature. Lead-safe lights can be found on rare occasions here in the U.S. and will be certified as RoHS compliant which monitors the levels of toxic chemicals allowed in electrical products. We found many options at Environmental Lights (look for their commercial strings that begin with the letter “C” or choose from their retail strings, icicle lights and nets).
Keep in mind that lead doesn’t like to stay bound in the PVC cord casing, so it sloughs off and ends up on hands and in little mouths. So if you’re unable to invest in RoHS lights this year, just be careful to keep Christmas lights out of reach of your little ones and use gloves while decorating your tree – especially if you’re pregnant. Also keeping dust around the tree cleaned up and off of presents will go a long way in protecting your family.
- Check light strands for frayed spots, broken sockets or loose connections
- Choose RoHS compliant lights for for lead safety
Most commercial candles and fragrance sprays are made with a dangerous cocktail of petroleum, phthalates and synthetic “ fragrances” – a term which can be legally used to hide over 3,000 chemicals!
- Skip commercial candles and fragrance sprays
- Use 100% essential oils with water in a spray bottle
- Try making your own potpourri with a mixture of your favorite herbs and spices gently simmering on the stove
- Purchase clean burning soy candles
Christmas gatherings are full of fun and a hubbub of activity. So when visiting relatives in unfamiliar environments, take a few minutes to acquaint yourself with the baby’s surroundings. Be sure to watch for the following hazards:
- Open stairs and fireplaces
- Large, unstable furniture and decorations
- Uncovered outlets and runaway electrical cords
- Hot pots cooking on front burners and unattended ovens
- Table runners and tablecloths loaded with decorations and hot food
- Unlocked cabinets containing medications and household cleaners
- Choking/suffocation hazards like wrapping paper, plastic bags, foam peanuts and hard candies
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