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12-16-13 Is stringing Christmas tree lights hazardous to your health?

Question of the Week

December 16, 2013

Is stringing Christmas tree lights hazardous to your health?

Tennessee Poison Center (TPC) has received calls from concerned parents and the media regarding lead in Christmas tree lighting.

Yes, lead is contained in the PVC wire coating. It's used in wiring for several reasons. Lead makes the plastics more flexible, reduces cracking or crumbling and acts as a fire retardant.

Some strands have labels saying they contain lead, in accordance with California's Proposition 65 Law: “Handling the coated electrical wire of the product exposes you to lead, a chemical known in the State of California to cause cancer. Wash hands after use."

Remember not all boxes have warning labels. The absence of a warning label does not mean its lead free. It would be best to assume all light strands contain some lead.

The main risk (although small) is that lead can be ingested from hand to mouth contact. Although the risk of toxicity is minimal the TPC recommends the following:

Do not allow children to handle lights.

Adults and children should wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling the strands of lights.

This question prepared by: Jeff Moore, Certified Specialist in Poison Information