Study Finds Toxic Chemicals in a Majority of Seasonal Holiday Products

(Ann Arbor, MI) -- A new research study finds that top retailers of holiday decor continue to sell seasonal products containing hazardous chemicals. Researchers found that two-thirds of tested products had one or more hazardous chemicals that have been linked to serious health effects. The study is an update to and expansion of research done in 2010 and 2013 by (a project of the Ann Arbor-based nonprofit organization, the Ecology Center) which found high levels of chemical hazards in light strings, holiday garland and other decorative products.

For this study, 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. People can be exposed to these chemicals by breathing air or dust containing chemicals volitalized from the products or by handling them.

"We've been testing and finding similar problems with these products since 2010. Most retailers have been slow to react and continue sell these products," said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center's research director. Environmentalists and public health advocates have called for retailers to work with suppliers to eliminate these hazards and develop safer substitutes.

Thirteen percent of the 2014 holiday products contained lead above 100 ppm; 12% 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 The 2014 lights -- including lights attached to decorations -- commonly showed high levels of lead and bromine, as did the 2010 study.

"Parents shouldn't have to worry that their holiday decorations may contain toxic chemicals," said 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." 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.

Published on January 29, 2015

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