Bring out the boxes of decorations this holiday season and while you are at it, keep in mind you could be facing dangerous exposure to chemicals too. From trees to garland, candles and toys, here are some tips to keep in mind for safe handling.
Fake trees are awfully convenient especially when they come with pre-strung lights. However what you may not be aware of is how they are a byproduct of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is derived from oil, a non-renewable resource. PVC contains hormone-disrupting softeners called phthalates. Plus, trees have been known to test positive for lead and arsenic. The more you handle the tree, the greater number of particles ends up in the air. When you are through with the tree, they make their way to landfills where dangerous chemicals continue to leach into the ground and air. [i]
On the flip side, real trees are treated with pesticides to promote growth over an eight-year growth cycle. Some say this contributes to pollution of watersheds. [ii] Most trees are tossed to the curb, backyard, or burned but could be used for mulch.
Sometimes contains acetone and methylene chloride so be careful when applying to arts, crafts, and tree. Short-term use can cause headaches and nausea. Long-term exposure has been shown to cause cancer and animals and possibly humans. [iii]
May contain lead paint that is a highly toxic metal, especially in children. When lead particles are absorbed into the body, it can cause damage to vital organs including the brain, kidney, nerves, and blood. If you have keepsake ornaments, it is best to handle them with gloves.
Decorative lights may also contain led which is used as a protective wire coating. Handle with care, however, short-term use is not likely to lead to exposure. [iv]
There is nothing like ambience from fresh scented candles. However, many brands are made with paraffin wax and may discharge benzene and ketones, both known cancer-causing agents that are comparable to car fumes. Gel candles and incense can also be problematic as they emit particulates into the air. Artificial oils can cause allergenic reactions. Clean alternatives include soy, all cotton wick (led free), and beeswax. According to the EPA when candles are burned they emit trace amounts of chemicals, including acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, acrolein, and naphthalene. However, you would have to burn many candles to cause harm. One study noted 30 candles burned in an enclosed room for three hours caused excessive formaldehyde levels however not enough studies have performed to prove they are harmful. [v]