Holiday decorations contain hazardous chemicals

Retailers need to do more to protect consumers

Top retailers of holiday decorations continue to sell products that contain hazardous chemicals, according to a new study by HealthyStuff.org, a project of the Ecology Center.Walmart poinsettia

“Two-thirds of the products we tested have one or more hazardous chemicals that have been linked to serious health threats,” according to Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center.

The study is an update of research conducted in 2012 and 2013 by HealthyStuff.org that found high levels of chemical hazards in light strings, holiday garland and other décor products. The products tested were purchased at Walgreens, Kroger, Lowe's, Walmart, Target and Dollar Tree stores.

HealthyStuff.org joined with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a national organization working to protect families from toxic chemicals, to release the study findings on Dec. 16.

Ecology Center researchers tested 69 seasonal holiday products including beaded and tinsel garlands, artificial wreaths and greenery, stockings, figurines and other tabletop decorations, and gift bags. Products were tested for substances that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. Chemical hazards can be released into the air, dust or on the skin when handling products, resulting in exposure.

"We've been testing and finding similar problems with these products since 2012,” Gearhart said. "Most retailers have been slow to react and continue to sell these products."

HealthyStuff.org has been working with the Mind the Store campaign to call on the nation's biggest retailers to work with suppliers to eliminate these hazards and develop safer substitute chemicals for their products.

Thirteen percent of the 2014 holiday products contained lead above 100 parts per million (ppm); 12 percent of the products contained more than 800 ppm bromine, indicating the presence of brominated flame retardants.

Beaded garlands were found to contain a multitude of toxic contaminants, mirroring the results from the group's 2013 study of beaded garlands. Light strings were also compared to an earlier study by HealthyStuff.org. The 2014 lights—including lights attached to decorations--commonly showed high levels of lead and bromine, as did the 2010 study.

Full test results are available at HealthyStuff.org.

"Parents shouldn't have to worry that their holiday decorations may contain toxic chemicals," according to Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. "Big retailers should get these hidden hazards out of holiday decorations, once and for all. Parents expect their favorite retailers to mind the store."

Gearhart recommends common sense precautions when handling these products because they may contain hazardous substances.

  • Do not allow children (or adults) to put small holiday ornaments in their mouths.
  • Wash your hands after handling the holiday light strings.
  • Frequent vacuuming and reducing levels of dust can reduce exposures to many of these chemicals of concern.
IMPORTANT NOTE: HealthyStuff.org ratings do not provide a measure of health risk or chemical exposure associated with any individual product, or any individual element or related chemical.