The holidays should be filled with joy – not health hazards. These scrooges may show up during the holidays, but they don’t have to ruin your festivities if you use common sense to protect yourself.
Live Christmas Trees and Mold
Every wonder why your asthma and allergies get worse around the holidays? The culprit could be your Christmas tree, which might be contaminated with mold spores and allergens. For people with a mold sensitivity or allergy, limit the time you keep a live Christmas tree in your home to no more than seven days. If tossing out the tree so quickly isn’t for you, make sure you have plenty of over-the-counter allergy medicine for relief if symptoms develop.
Here are a few additional tips to help you enjoy your fresh tree :
- Protect yourself. Wear gloves and long sleeves to bring the tree into your home, and again when you decorate. This will protect your arms from touching the sap, needles, and mold spores.
- Wash allergens away. Spray the tree down with water before you bring it inside to remove some of the mold and pollen.
- Dry it out. Allow the tree to stand in a bucket of water and let it dry outside for a few days, which can help prevent mold from growing.
- Purify your air. Put a household air purifier in the same room as the tree to help remove allergens that are airborne.
- Toss the tree. Get rid of the tree ASAP.Mold spores may accumulate the longer your tree is in the house.
Are Artificial Trees Toxic?
Some artificial trees are toxic. Many people buy artificial Christmas trees to avoid the mess of dropped needles spread throughout their homes. Unfortunately, that pristine artificial tree could be spreading something you can’t see: toxic lead dust.
Most artificial trees are manufactured in China and made from two items: PVC, a petroleum-based plastic, and lead, used to stabilize PVC. PVC releases gases known as volatile organic compounds that can irritate the eyes, nose, and lungs. The lead in the “greens” breaks down into lead dust, which is released into the air. When you and your family breathe in the dust, it can cause lead poisoning. The older the tree the worse it can get.
There are some newer options made of polyethylene plastic (PE) that are very lifelike and a much better option, but still not exactly a non-toxic Christmas tree. To be safer, buy a tree made in the USA and read the labels. For more information on holiday decorations made in the USA, click here.
Do Christmas Lights Contain Lead?
Most Christmas lights contain trace amounts of lead. But then again, so do many power cords and electrical wires. Lead is used to make wire more pliable. Does this mean we should stop enjoying the divine twinkling of holiday lights? Absolutely not. But we should be mindful of lead, which is a dangerous toxin that can cause significant health problems.
The best approach is that of common sense. After you’ve strung up your lights, be sure to wash your hands well. Carefully wipe the area around the decorations with a disposable wet cloth, being careful not to spread any dust that may have collected, which may contain lead.
The holidays are time to break out Grandma’s beautiful crystal and china. But be careful – older crystal often contains lead, which is sometimes marked on the glasses or dishware. Antique dishware or that made before 1970 is also suspect for lead. Vintage Pyrex has been known to test positive for lead. For a list of household items that have been tested for lead, click here.
Leaded crystal glassware, while posing little risk with occasional use, should never be used by children or pregnant women. Food or liquids should also never be stored in lead crystal.
If you are concerned or curious, a home lead test kit may be used to detect surface lead on dishware. A positive test confirms a viable hazard, but since the test may not detect lower but still significant lead levels, a negative result is no guarantee that the dishware is safe. It’s your health, so you should make the decision as to whether you are ok with brief exposure to lead or not.
Candles, Air Fresheners & Indoor Air Quality
We all love the smell of a balsam fir candle or spiced apple toddy air freshener. But what we don’t love are the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that some release. VOCs are off-gassed in the form of fumes from many scented items during the holidays, and can cause headaches, fatigue, rashes, and other health issues.
Avoid candles with paraffin wax, a petrochemical byproduct that is often contaminated with carcinogenic compounds. It is considered an indoor pollutant when burned. Also, avoid candles with artificial fragrances, which can cause a wide range of health issues, from headaches and dizziness to asthma. Metal wicks can also cause health concerns. When burned, those wicks with a little wire inside may be releasing heavy metals, including lead, which is associated with behavioral and neurological issues. Candles made in the USA are always better.
So what can you do? Try non-toxic scented candles that smell fantastic, naturally. Some healthier options come from brands like Element, Keap, Lite + Cycle, and Cellar Door Candles.
Heavy Metals In Menorahs
During Chanukah, we often pull out our families’ vintage menorah. What we don’t realize is that it may contain a great deal of lead and cadmium, especially if it is brass or ceramic glazed. Recently an advocate for lead safety and awareness tested several menorahs. Here are her findings.
So how can you protect yourself? The best bet is to buy a new, lead-free menorah. But if you want to keep family tradition alive, just wipe down the area the menorah was touching with a disposable wipe after you are done and discard. And, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water after handling the menorah. This will make for a Happy Chanukah for everyone!
Dirty Decoration Storage Boxes
Since we only use them once a year, those boxes that we store our beloved holiday items in have 11 months to collect dust, debris, and mold in our basements and attics. Before you pull the boxes out into the main area of your home, check them for staining, dampness, and mold. If they show signs of damage, take the decorations out from inside the box and wipe them down before bringing them into your main living area. This small step could keep you from contaminating the rest of your home with mold spores.
If you do find staining or moisture, it probably means that there was a water intrusion of some sort, and may indicate a larger problem in your basement or attic. To be safe, you may want to have the area tested for mold by a professional inspector.
Whatever you choose to do, take proper precautionary measures, and have a happy and healthy holiday season!