National Environmental Health Association (NEHA)

Lead in Christmas Lights

A recent California proposition led to awareness that lead is a stabilizer in the Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) jacketing that covers conductors in Christmas lights. The objective of this study is to examine the level of accessible lead in Christmas lights. Following U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) Lead Inspectors’ procedures, researchers at Cornell University and in Nebraska conducted wipe samples and total lead content samples of newly purchased and older Christmas light sets. Samples were analyzed for lead content. Lead was present in varying amounts on all samples. The amount of lead from the Nebraska samples, normalized to length of strings, was independent of analyzing laboratory, analysis method, age of string, and repeat sampling, both immediately and after extended storage. A later analysis of these same strings by the Cornell team showed diminished quantities. Amounts of surface lead normalized to crude estimates of the area of light string indicated surface concentrations in excess of U.S. EPA clearance level for lead on window sills. Whether exposure to lead in Christmas lights affects blood lead levels in humans is unknown. No standards exist for lead content in this product, and no protocols exist for conducting tests on it. Therefore, consumers may wish to exercise caution to reduce possible exposure.

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