Study Finds Toxic Content in Holiday Decorations

The research found high levels of chemical hazards in light strings, holiday garland and other decor products. Products were purchased and tested from Walgreens, Kroger, Lowe's, Walmart, Target and Dollar Tree.

Mnet 166257 Christmas Garland

A new research study finds that top retailers of holiday decor continue to sell some seasonal decorations and other products that contain hazardous chemicals. Researchers found that 2/3 of these products have one or more hazardous chemicals that have been linked to serious health threats. The study is an update to previous research in 2012 and 2013 by HealthyStuff.org (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 décor products. Products were purchased and tested from Walgreens, Kroger, Lowe's, Walmart, Target and Dollar Tree. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families joined Healthystuff.org in releasing in the findings today.

For the study, the Ecology Center researchers tested a total of 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. Most retailers have been slow to react and continue to sell these products," said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center's principle researcher.  Environmental and public health advocates with the Mind the Store Campaign have called for the nation's biggest retailers to work with suppliers to eliminate these hazards and develop safer substitute chemicals for these products.

Thirteen percent of the 2014 holiday products contained lead above 100 parts per million (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 HealthyStuff.org. 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."

HealthyStuff.org 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.

HealthyStuff.org is a project of the Ecology Center. The full test results are available at HealthyStuff.org.

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