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  QUESTION: What is the lead risk of fiberoptic Christmas lights, 22 Oct 2003, North Carolina USA

What do you know about the artificial Christmas trees with fiberoptics lights? I'd like to purchase one but it has a lead warning on the label. Are they safe?

ANSWER: 26 Oct 2003

Dear Madam,

The only information in our library about the lead and cadmium in Christmas trees came from the Foundation EARTH (Environment, Agriculture, Research and Technology in Harmony) website at earthonline.org/leadpress.html AND http://earthonline.org/leadstudy.html but despite my extensive Google search, the earthonline website seems to have been taken down. Please find original Foundation EARTH article attached.

The article notes:

"If someone's tree is found to be contaminated, it should be properly disposed of," Berg says. "And before running out to buy a new artificial tree to replace their old ones, consumers should consider the more environmentally friendly alternative of a fresh-cut Christmas tree. Real trees support American farmers and are also a renewable, recyclable resource."

As for the issue of fiberoptic lights on Christmas trees, the Consumer Product Safety Commission does not seem to have done any recalls on the basis of lead hazard and my Google search returned no results on:

  • "Christmas lights" "lead warning" fiberoptics or;
  • "Christmas lights" "lead hazard" fiberoptics

But when I tried the latter without fiberoptics, I got one result - the Curriculum Vitae of Dr David Sterling, School of Public Health, Salus Center, Saint Louis University Health Science Center [phone: (314) 977-8123]. Thus I am copying this email to Dr Sterling in case he has any insights into the question and could email both you and me.

This leaves me with the answer I gave to a previous enquirer in December 2002:

"it is my understanding that Proposition 65 warnings arise from Californian legislation which determines that whenever a consumer product that will be sold in California carries a risk of cancer or reproductive damage, it must carry the warning label. I would have hoped that the legislation would require a specific warning such as, "if ingested, there is a risk of lead poisoning from this product" or "if the lights get too hot there may be a risk of lead fumes being created". It is unfortunate that the warning does not appear to be specific enough to tell you how you might be exposed to lead from the lights. It is customary for the cat's eye shaped contact on a light bulb to be made of lead and if this is the only lead to be concerned about, then as long as no one eats a bulb or the contact, there should be no problem.

To clarify the risk you could ask the retailer, the manufacturer or your state Consumer products agency or check out www.cpsc.gov"

On the issue of specificity of Proposition 65 warnings, I also found in my search today an excellent article by Dr Mark Lappe at www.environmentalcommons.org/cetos//articles/prop65.html

My summary for you therefore is, since you haven't bought the lights, if you have young children who might eat them, to be safe, I would avoid buying the fiberoptic lights. If you don't have young children - it's probably an acceptable risk. I hope this helps.

Elizabeth O'Brien

Update 2010: WNEM TV5, Saginaw MI, 48607 Lead Found In 4 Out Of 5 Christmas Light Strings - Ann Arbor Group Finds Traceable Amounts Of Lead In 80 Percent Of Lights - POSTED: 10:40 am EST December 8, 2010 - UPDATED: 10:55 am EST December 8, 2010

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