26 November 2006

Lead in Christmas lights?

In case you missed Maggie's comment on the post about lead in Halloween toys, I've decided to promote it to the front page. Thank you, Maggie, for letting us know about this.

Unfortunately, there are many hidden lead dangers that parents should be aware of, especially parents of small children and infants. I became aware of this because I work for a health department and receive the recall notices regularly on products, and I have three young kids.

First, many everyday metal objects like car keys should NEVER be given to a baby to play with because they can contain lead. What does a baby do, but put the keys directly in his or her mouth! Another common culprit is cheap metal jewelry, like the kind sold at the Dollar Store or out of vending machines. Give these to your toddler or even a young girl and she is likely to be found mouthing them and ingesting lead. There was also a recent recall of a heart-shaped metal charm (a give away item as a promotion on a box of Rebok tennis shoes) that was swallowed by a little boy and when he died they found dangerously high levels of lead in his blood and a clear x-ray of the heart in his stomach. Lead poisoning can lead to a number of health problems, including impairted mental function and (at very high levels) death. Please never give a small child metal objects to play with.

Finally, one precaution for parents this holiday season. Wash your hands after handling christmas lights. Handling them can result in a small amount of lead exposure. Though the exposure isn't great, and not likely to hurt you (since you only do this once a year) it still is a good idea to be careful (since it never hurts to wash your hands). And obviously, have your children wash their hands if they are helping hang the christmas lights.

Lead exposure has a cumulative effect. So that multiple exposures over time can be harmful.

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If you are really worried about lead exposure, you can wash your hands with something like this after handling the lights or other things that might have lead:

http://www.labsafety.com/store/Safety_Supplies/Asbestos_-_Mold_-_Lead/Lead/53721/

They use this where I work as common electronics solder contains lead (most newer products these days use lead free solder, but it's harder to work with and most companies use regular leaded solder for prototypes as far as I know).

I commented at Halloween, but I'll do it again. Some artificial Christmas trees contain lead. I bought a table top tree for my toddler to use for Advent ornaments and discovered a warning on it when I got home.

I got rid of my Christmas lights last year after reading an article about unexplained pervasive lead exposure in kids. (Also, real trees get sprayed with fire retardant which I wouldn't want on my child's hands anymore than lead.)

First, consider that you don't need lights. A tree with ornaments and garland in your home isn't special enough???

Second, consider casting light onto your tree from an exterior source. I picked up a 1960s' color wheel at a garage sale that rotates color onto the tree. They're intended for white trees, but are an option if you have shiny ornaments and tinsel. Search eBay for the words "color wheel" and "tree."

hi asha,
i have recently subscribed to a few product recall, and usda health warning news feeds, and am altogether disgusted with the number of children's toys being recalled for lead, as well as a superfluity of other insidiously delinquent oversights in the toy industry.
I'm curious if you currently have a source for this kind of information?
the feeds I look at are as follows
http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.xml
http://www.wndu.com/rss/productr.xml
and
http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/news/rssPress.xml

I'm so glad to see this here. Last year I noticed the tag on the lights that gave a warning for lead - the warning mentioned that it had to be there because of laws "in California". I pointed it out to my husband, made sure we BOTH washed our hands after handling the lights, and made sure the kids didn't handle them at all. My husband mumbled something under his breath about "the people in California" (taking things too far), but I'm glad that they're so progressive out there! :D

I read a rather disturbing article at Salon.com about the high levels of lead in tap water, and why measurements made by government agencies may not reflect the actual lead level coming out of your tap.
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/11/27/lead/index.html
I'm thinking of getting a test kit and checking it myself.
http://www.leadtesting.org/

I also recently read that you should always use cold water from the tap for drinking and cooking, as the hot water is more likely to pick up lead from pipe solder (apparently legal to use until the 1980's!!) I have sometimes used hot water to fill the pasta pot in order to speed up cooking time - no more!

It's interesting to see some of the responses here in relation to my post. My goal in posting the info is to raise awareness and give people information to make informed decisions. That being said, I sure would hate to think of anyone getting rid of their Christmas tree or lights because they were concerned about the potential lead exposure. It's important to keep in mind that negative health consequences are dependent upon many things, such as duration, amount and frequency of exposure. Christmas happens but once a year and exposures to lead are likely to be low. If you use common sense and wash your hands, you should not have to worry too much about your Christmas lights and decorations. I am more concerned about exposures that may happen everyday, such as a child who continually puts metal objects in their mouths.

What a great post! There are varieties of christmas lights to choose from. In order to prevent your child from being exposed to lead, display your lights in a place where your child cannot reach it.

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