Monday, December 20, 2010

Deck the Halls with Lead and PVC?

Doesn't sound like a happy song or great idea, does it? Buts that's what you may be doing if you're stringing most types of Christmas lights around your home. Lead is specifically chosen as the main stabilizer in the PVC casing used on the electrical wiring because of it’s flame retardant nature. The PVC coating helps keep the wires flexible, so they don't become brittle and crack leading to a fire hazard.

The Soft Landing reported that "The Ecology Center ( tested 68 Christmas light sets and found that a shocking 54% of the products contained more than 300 parts per million of lead in PVC encased cords and light-bulb sockets – a level higher than the CPSC’s standard for lead in children’s products. Products with the highest lead levels included light strands from GE and Home Depot (over 300 ppm) and two sets sold at Home Depot under the Home Accents Holiday and Martha Stewart Living labels (over 450 ppm)."

You may be asking yourself "so what's the big deal? I'm not going to chew on them!". What you may not know is that lead doesn’t stay bound in the PVC cord casing, so it sloughs off and ends up on hands and in little mouths. If you live in California, you will see that product manuals for your computer, TV, lamp etc. have following warning: “Handling the power cord on this product will expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. WASH HANDS AFTER HANDLING”.
 For some reason, California is the only state that has this warning for it's consumers.

Finding lights in the US that do not contain lead is almost impossible. According to The Soft Landing, the best ones to look for are RoHS compliant. "RoHS compliance is important because it also certifies that products have safe levels of mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE). The maximum permitted concentrations are 0.1% or 1000 ppm (except for cadmium, which is limited to 0.01% or 100 ppm) by weight of homogeneous material."

Environmental Lights carries some RoHS compliant varieties. Another option is IKEA. IKEAs products follow the stricter European Union's safety standards. When asked about their lights being compliant, we got the following response:

“IKEAs chemical requirements on electrical and electronic articles are based on EU RoHS and other countries chemical requirements, meaning our articles comply with even stricter requirements then EU RoHS compliance.”

What should you do if you cannot get RoHS compliant lights?

Here some guidelines from SafBaby on how to properly handle Christmas lights and cords:

-Wear gloves, and only let adults handle.
-Keep all lights at a high enough level that curious toddlers can not reach.
-Wash hands after touching any Christmas lighting.
-Be extra careful when you are out at relatives/friends houses. They may have lots of interesting lights in reach for your curious baby.
-If you can’t hide power cords from children, you can wrap cords in cotton cloth.

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