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article imageStudy Finds High Level of Lead in Christmas Lights

By Debra Myers     Nov 25, 2008 in Health
Thanksgiving for many marks the time of year to haul out Christmas lights and start decorating for the holiday ahead. This year there comes a warning that those Christmas lights have higher levels of lead than are allowable by EPA/HUD regulatory limits.
Ithaca, NY - A study that will be published this December, along with Lelia M. Coyne, a chemist and certified lead risk assessor in Lincoln, Neb., and Mark R. Pierce, a Cornell extension associate in Laquatra's department, in an issue of Journal of Environmental Health (71:5), will detail the findings of the toxicity of Christmas lights, specifically the high amount of lead found on them.
Researchers took 10 sets of indoor/outdoor lights, purchased recently and some sold back in the 1970s, and tested them. What they found was that regardless of when they were made and sold, all of them had detectable levels of lead on them. Surprisingly, there was no significant differences in the levels of lead. The amount of lead that was found exceeds the allowable limit established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for windowsills or floors.
Joseph Laquatra, a professor of design and environmental analysis in Cornell's College of Human Ecology, who led the study, said, Lead is used in the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) jacketing of the Christmas light cords to prevent them from cracking or crumbling and to make them resistant to heat, light and moisture damage. Lead makes up 2-5 percent of PVC jacketing in different types of wires.
The researchers aren't sure whether the level of lead is harmful to adults, but it is known that the more lead a child is exposed to, the hazards to the child's health goes up. Sadly, there are no standards or protocols for testing nor for the amount of lead in these products.
Laquatra wants consumers to be aware that there is lead in all appliance cords, and that although American manufacturers have been moving away from using lead as a PVC stabilizer in the last five years, at present there is no way to know how much lead exists in jacketing or in various products without independent testing.
Although most of us are aware of what may or does contain lead, there are many things that with lead still around us. Paint in older homes and buildings, jewelry, wheel weights (that fall off people's vehicles), charms on children's sneakers; cords from coffeemakers, toasters, refrigerators or extension cords; miniblinds, fake Christmas trees, ceramics as well as hair dyes and even makeup.
The key point is that the lead may transferred from hand to the mouth , and that care must be taken to wash your hands after handling the Christmas lights, and especially to not allow children to handle them.
Laquatra adds, "consumers may wish to exercise caution to reduce possible exposure."
More about Xmas lights, Lead, Health
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