December 2, 2008

Study Finds High Lead Levels in Christmas Lights

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When the weather drops and the lights go up, it’s a sign that Christmas is around the corner. But those engaging in the holiday light tradition should worry about more than just watching where they step while scaling the roof to hang the season emblems. According to one Cornell researcher, many light sets contain high levels of lead.
Prof. Joseph Laquatra, design and environmental analysis, headed the study, which found that some lead levels in Christmas light sets exceed limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development on floors and windowsills.
Researchers tested levels of lead in 10 sets of Christmas lights, both indoor and outdoor ones purchased in Nebraska and New York recently and in the 1970s from a variety of manufacturers, according to the University.
All tests detected lead levels above the EPA and HUD regulations for the equivalent areas of windowsills and floors.
Laquatra told the University that it is unclear whether the lead in the lights affects human blood lead levels. Still, he noted that “research increasingly shows that any exposure to lead — especially by children — is hazardous to health in that it is implicated in a wide range of health concerns.”
Currently, there are no standards regarding the lead levels in Christmas lights or protocols to test those levels.
The lead is found in the polyvinyl chloride material that covers the cords, comprising 2 to 5 percent of the material.
The researchers warn that people could ingest the lead by way of hand-to-mouth contact after touching the lights, and urge anyone who comes into contact with a light set to wash their hands.
Lead is found in several products that may come as a surprise.
“Despite awareness of the dangers of lead exposure, lead is continually found in products that expose people to high levels of this toxin including deteriorating paint, jewelry, motor vehicle wheel weights that easily fall from vehicles, charms on children’s tennis shoes, miniblinds, artificial Christmas trees, ceramics, hair dyes and cosmetics,” Laquatra told the University.
The study will be published in the Journal of Environmental Health in December.