The Tennessee Poison Center receives many calls about exposures to holiday decorations, plants, and other seasonal products this time of year. Here are some holiday hazards to be aware of:
The liquid in bubble lights is methylene chloride. Significant ingestions may cause lethargy, respiratory depression, variations in blood pressure and heart rate, and nausea/vomiting. Skin exposure may cause irritation and prolonged contact may result in systemic symptoms. Methylene chloride is partially metabolized to carbon monoxide; elevated carboxyhemoglobin levels can be seen. The amount of liquid in each light is usually less than teaspoonful, and children are unlikely to ingest enough to cause toxicity.
The wiring of some Christmas tree lights contains lead compounds. It is used to make the plastic coating more flexible, to reduce cracking and crumbling with age, and acts as a fire retardant. Not all strands contain lead; however, not all products have proper warning labels. It is safest to assume that all light strands contain some amount of lead. The main concern with these products is that ingestion can occur from hand-to-mouth contact. While the risk of toxicity is minimal, children should not be allowed to handle the strands and adults should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after use.
Ornaments are made of glass, thin metal, styrofoam, or wood and can break easily. Ingestions may cause cuts and obstructions. Very old ornaments or ornaments from other countries may contain lead.
Snow spray (flocking) is non-toxic when dried. The propellant contains a mixture of methylene chloride and fluorinated hydrocarbons. The main concern with these products is intentional abuse (“huffing”).
This question prepared by: Justin Loden, PharmD, CSPI (Certified Specialist in Poison Information)
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Donna Seger, MD
Tennessee Poison Center
Poison Help Hotline: 1-800-222-1222