Check your Holiday Lights for Lead

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Toxic chemicals don’t go well with snowflakes, gingerbread men, and carols around the fire. I hate to even bring them up at this time of year, but they have a way of intruding in celebrations of all kinds.

When I was a kid we hung the same lights on our tree every year, and when I started to bring my own kids to spend the holidays with their grandparents, they hung those same strings of lights. A couple of years ago I tested them and found that the plastic insulation on the wires was full of lead. Lead was a common material in electrical wires and cables for many years.

In the last few weeks the Center for Environmental Health decided it’d be useful to check this year’s holiday lights and see if we found any lead problems. I am pleased to be able to tell you that we found no lead problems in the 24 new light sets we tested. They were purchased at Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, and CVS and included General Electric and Philips as well as store brands like Trim A Home, Holiday Time, Target, and Merry Brite.

We also tested some old light sets that some of our staff members had at home. We found lead in the plastic insulation on all of them.

Many families save their lights and use them year after year. If that includes your family, here are our recommendations. If you live in the Bay Area, bring them by our office (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays between 12 and 6) and we’ll test them for you. You can also check them with a lead test kit available from paint and hardware stores. If you’re not able to test your lights, we suggest keeping them away from kids, and washing your hands carefully after you hang them. Also, if you want to buy new lights some utilities offer discounts or exchanges on energy saving LED lights.