Deadly Christmas Decorations

christmas-tree-1812689_1280Flickering lights, dancing tinsel, draped garland, and shiny-painted ornaments add magic to this special time of year. It’s estimated that more than 80 percent of Americans decorate their homes during the Christmas holiday season. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), “During November and December 2015, there were six fatalities and an estimated 14,000 injuries treated in hospital ERs nationwide, due to holiday decorations. That’s an average of about 250 injuries per day during the holiday season.”

Unfortunately, these statistics do not include the number of children who may have been accidentally lead poisoned by vintage Christmas lights and tinsel, and antique holiday ornaments.
There are many Christmas items that have lead in them.

Here’s a list with recommendations to keep you and your family safe this holiday season:

1. Outdated Toys. Many, if not most, plastic toys contain heavy metals. Phthalates, BPA, lead, and cadmium are just some of the dangers lurking in common plastic toys.

What you can do to be safe: Keep old lead-based painted toys out of the reach of children or better, do not allow your children to play with these toys. If they do touch an old toy have your child wash her/his hands immediately with warm water and soap to remove lead dust particles.

2. Antique Ornaments. The paint on older ornaments contain lead. If they break or chip they could cause lead poisoning in the family pet — or worse — your grandchild. Paint used on Christmas ornaments made before 1986 have a good chance of containing lead. Parents are advised to keep antique ornaments away from small children and pets who may try and put them in their mouths.

What you can do to be safe: If you have old ornaments with sentimental value – secure these ornaments near the top of the tree so they don’t fall on the floor and break. Never put old ornaments on the lower branches where children and pets can reach them.

3. Old-Fashioned Lights. Lights that are a few years old are likely to contain small amounts of lead, according to an article written for Cleveland 19 News.

What you can do to be safe: Shop for new lights that may or may not have a Prop 65 warning label. (See more information on Prop 65 below.) Never use lights that have broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections.

4. Vintage Tinsel. Today there are over 40 different vintage types of tinsel advertised on eBay that contain lead in them. Lead was used to give old tinsel more weight so the strands could hang without crinkling.

What you can do to be safe: Today, plastic tinsel typically gets its shiny finish from metallization, which is performed by heating and evaporating a metal such as aluminum under a vacuum and condensing it onto the plastic to leave a thin coating. By the 1960s, awareness of the risks of lead poisoning spelled the end for lead-based tinsel. The Food & Drug Administration reached an agreement with tinsel importers and manufacturers, putting an end to lead alloy tinsel in the U.S. in 1972.

How can I make sure a Christmas toy or ornament doesn’t include lead?

Proposition 65 is a 1986 California law designed to allow individual consumers and their families to decide for themselves whether to assume the chemical exposure risks of purchasing particular products or frequenting particular premises. [Link:] Many California-made Christmas decorations with the Prop 65 warning label can be found throughout stores in the U.S.

I just bought Christmas lights that has a Proposition 65 warning. Is it unsafe?

A Proposition 65 warning informs a consumer that s/he is being exposed to carcinogens or reproductive toxins that exceed certain threshold levels. This is not the same as a regulatory decision that a product is “safe” or “unsafe.”

You can seek information about the actual levels of exposure from the business that produces the product or causes the exposure to decide whether to accept, avoid, or take measures to mitigate the exposure risk.

Only a certified laboratory can accurately test a toy or ornament for lead.

Do-it-yourself test kits are available, but they do not show how much lead is present and [it’s not known] how reliable they are at detecting low levels of lead.

WARNING: Because lights, tinsel, and ornaments items are not intended for use by children, they are not included in the most recent consumer products safety commission regulations. Check the CPSC list of recalled toys. Photos and descriptions of recalled toys and toy jewelry are also available on the CPSC website. For more information call CPSC at 1-800-638-2772.

From all of us at, we’d like to wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday season.