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Beware: Toxic dangers may lurk in holiday decorations

Artificial Christmas trees are not the only holiday decoration containing lead—a potent neurotoxin that is especially dangerous to the developing brains and bodies of young children. Here are other common decorations that may be a hazard.

Decorative lights. PVC is used in electrical cords, including holiday lights. It is important that young children not be allowed to handle decorative lights, especially if there’s a chance they might try to chew on the wires. Adults should wash their hands after handling lights.

Ornaments. Many favorite ornaments are passed down through generations. Unfortunately, many older ornaments were decorated with lead paint, which is why the colors are so bright. Newer ornaments are less likely to be decorated with lead paint, but you can still purchase ornaments made of leaded crystal or glass. It is important that all ornaments with potential lead content be placed out of the reach of children.

Candles. Many candles use lead in wicks to make the wick rigid and to let the candle burn more slowly. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the use of lead wicks in 2003, yet testing shows that 3% of candles available for purchase still use them. Lead wicks are more common among larger, poured candles (pillar candles and those in glass containers) and scented candles. Wicks containing lead release this toxin into the air, which then settles on furniture, walls, and floors and can easily be ingested by children. Most American candle makers have replaced lead with zinc or tin, which contain only trace amounts of lead. You can check for a metal wick by pulling away the outer layers and looking for a metal wire. If you find this, call the manufacturer to determine which metal they use for their wick core.

-Molly Polverento, Michigan Environmental Council
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