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Childproofing for the Holidays

As a child proofer and while this festive time of year approaches, it’s important for me to share new safety concerns that may arise for families with young children. Although decorations and a trimmed tree are part of the holiday traditions, they can pose a risk to young children. By taking a few precautionary measures you will be able to rest easy knowing your child will be enjoying this Christmas season and creating specials memories along the way.

Childproofing tips:

  • Securely attach breakable ornaments high on the tree out of the reach of children while only using paper or large plastic ornaments on lower portion of tree
  • Candles should be kept out of the reach of children at all times
  • Since poinsettias are not poisonous choose them over mistletoe (mistletoe berries are)
  • Pass on the table cloth and runners. Young children pull on them sending hot food and tableware flying
  • Unstable Christmas trees pose tip-over risk. Securely position your tree in stand and attach to the wall using durable twine and cord cleats for extra safety.
  • Wait till Christmas Eve to put presents under the tree. Torn wrapping paper and ribbons can pose a choking hazard
  • Keep small objects, such as hard candy or nuts in candy dishes, where younger children can’t get them.
  • When visiting family survey the house for safety concerns. Look for open stairs, uncovered outlets, unlocked medications and household cleaners within reach.

Physical harm such as choking on decorations or playing with the outlet where Christmas lights are plugged in are not the only concerns.  Surprisingly, toxic chemicals like lead in PVC trees and lights also play a big role in creating an unsafe environment too.

Choosing a Safe Christmas Tree

Most artificial trees are made from PVC plastic.  Not only is PVC loaded with toxic chemicals, its production also results in emission of dioxin and ethylene dichloride.  And to top it off, lead is often used as a stabilizer in PVC to make artificial trees more resistant to light and weathering.  Lead has been linked to kidney, liver, neurological and reproductive system damage.  Some Christmas trees are even required to carry warning labels because they shed lead-laden dust, exposing children to the toxic chemical.  Many artificial trees are also treated with flame retardants.  But that’s necessary for our safety, right?  Well not always – even the treated trees can still catch fire.

Real trees make the perfect substitute for a PVC tree.  Worried about allergies?  Go with fir and spruce varieties which do not contain irritating resins.  Fresh trees are a natural, renewable, reusable, recyclable source, and just think – you’re supporting US farmers and local businesses when you buy live Christmas trees.

If you’d still prefer to go with an artificial Christmas tree, be sure to choose one made from polyethylene (often labeled with “PE”) that hasn’t been treated with flame retardants.  If you find a PE tree you like and it has been treated, confirm with the manufacturer if the flame retardants non-halogenated, as they are considered much less toxic.

Locating Lead-safe Christmas Lights

Toxic chemicals are also found in Christmas lights.  Most are made from PVC and lead is specifically chosen as the main stabilizer in the PVC casing used on the electrical wiring because of its flame retardant nature.  There are other substitutes like zinc and boron, but they are more expensive and not readily available.

The Ecology Center tested 68 Christmas light sets and found that 54% of the products contained more than 300 parts per million of lead in PVC encased cords and light-bulb sockets – a level higher than the CPSC’s standard for lead in children’s products.

Lead-safe lights can be found on rare occasions here in the U.S. and will be certified as RoHS compliant which monitors the levels of toxic chemicals allowed in electrical products.  Most RoHS compliant lights are also LED which is great, but more expensive. We found many options at Environmental Lights (look for their commercial strings that begin with the letter “C” or choose from their retail strings, icicle lights and nets).

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.

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