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Lead and PVC in Christmas Lights Go Together Like Bonnie and Clyde

Guest Blogger
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Alicia, The Soft Landing:

We learned a lot about PVC and lead last year in our research on artificial Christmas trees. The toxic couple made yet another grand appearance as we turned our attention to Christmas lights this season.

It turns out that lead is specifically chosen as the main stabilizer in the PVC casing used on the electrical wiring because of it’s flame retardant nature. There are other substitutes like zinc and boron, but they are more expensive and not readily available in the U.S. quite yet.

Locating PVC-free light strings proved impossible, so we focused on tracking down lead-free options.

Let’s start out discussing what exactly makes a safe light safe anyway? It basically comes down to this:

  • Lead-safe lights can be found on rare occasions here in the U.S. We learned that you need to look for RoHS compliant products and that’s REALLY difficult.
  • Most RoHS compliant lights are also LED which is great, but more expensive.
  • 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.

We turned up only one source here in the U.S. and that was Environmental Lights. They were very helpful in confirming which lights are RoHS compliant and explained that it’s a long and difficult process, so they’re still working through many of the products on their site:

  1. Commercial Strings that begin with the letter “C” (84 products at the moment)
  2. Retail Strings, Icicle lights and Nets (about 177 products at the moment)

This Bonnie and Clyde couple are fickle: lead doesn’t like to stay bound in the PVC cord casing, so it sloughs off and ends up on hands and in little mouths. So if you’re unable to invest in RoHS lights this year, just be careful to keep Christmas lights out of reach of your little ones and use gloves while decorating your tree – especially if you’re pregnant. Also keeping dust around the tree cleaned up and off of presents will go a long way in protecting your family.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of Healthy Child Healthy World.
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