When tested with an XRF instrument this artificial Christmas Tree (purchased at Costco, c. 2007/2008 & photographed here up and decorated for the 2017 Christmas holidays) was positive for Lead with the following levels:
- Reading 1: 533 ppm Lead
- Reading 2: 1,296 ppm Lead
- Reading 3: 1,411 ppm Lead
- Reading 4: 5,896 ppm Lead
While I haven’t tested very many artificial trees, this was the highest Lead that I have ever found on an artificial Christmas tree. Scroll down to continue reading more about the testing I did and my concern for Lead in artificial Christmas trees.
To see more Christmas items I have tested, Click HERE.
QUESTION: Tamara, why are there so many different levels listed above? What was different about each reading?
ANSWER: These tests were done in the order shown above. I was really surprised by the levels. After each test I tried a little harder to get more of the material of the tree in for each reading (in the approximately 1 cm round scope of the XRF instrument). The final reading is most likely representative of the levels throughout the tree, but I think this is also a good example to share about how readings can vary and how it is important to test multiple times to confirm levels.
QUESTION: Why is this Lead level on an artificial Christmas tree a problem?
ANSWER: I have quite a few concerns with high Lead levels found in artificial Christmas trees, below is summary of all my considerations (let me know if you have questions about any of these):
- The level at which newly purchased (2018) items intended for use by children are considered to have “too much” Lead (and be legally, officially unsafe for children) is any Lead levels that are 90 ppm or higher in the paint or coating or any Lead levels that are 100 ppm or higher in the substrate (the underlying material of the object.)
- Decorative items like artificial Christmas trees are NOT regulated for Lead in the same way as items intended for use by children. By very nature of their designation as a “Decorative Item” they are exempt from the CPSC regulation for children’s items.
- Often in older (not made in the last four or five years) Christmas items Lead was not only a component in the manufacturing of the item (an element of the substrate) but, as I understand it, Lead was also historically applied to the surface of items like this (especially if they incorporate electrical components like integrated lights) as an element of the fire retardant coating the item.
- When lead is in a coating (especially in a powdered or sprayed on form) it can easily rub off on the fingers of folks touching items like this.
- I don’t care if the manufacturer says that these items are not intended for use by children… I believe they should be fundamentally considered an item intended for use by children. Children decorate them. Children hide under them. Children touch them. Children’s gifts go under them. Throughout the holiday season children interact with their Christmas tree on a regular basis.
- Because the items are generally displayed indoors the lead has the potential to wear off into the home environment and be dispersed throughout the home (especially as these items age and wear with time – as all plastic items do.)
- It just takes a microscopic amount of lead (a truly invisible amount) in house dust to poison a human (especially to poison children who are more likely to play on the floor – which they inevitably do around the Christmas tree before and after the holiday.)
- Lead exposure causes life long health impairments (even very low, trace level lead exposure can cause long term impacts in both adults and children.) Click HERE to see several of my posts about the symptoms and impacts of Lead exposure. Click HERE to read my favorite article about the impact of LOW LEVEL Lead exposure.
- Artificial Christmas trees are designed to last forever and are generally reused every year- so they can keep poisoning you and your family for years (and even decades) into the future.
- I would consider Leaded Artificial Christmas trees in my “Very Dangerous” category (things you should NEVER have in your home.)
- Christmas trees are not necessarily marked as to whether or not they may have Lead, and they may or may not test positive with a LeadCheck swab* – so most consumers will not be able to test their tree themselves at home.
- NEW 2018 Artificial Christmas trees are generally marked as to whether or not they might have Lead. Some vendors (including IKEA) have also made a point to market and sell Lead-free options.
If you would like me to test a piece of your older artificial Christmas tree to help you determine if it may have lead or not, you can send me a clipping (ideally a two inch piece of a branch?) and I can test it for a $25.00 contribution in support of my advocacy work. Email me at TamaraRubin@mac.com if you are interested in doing this. [I have never offered this before, so I have no idea if this is something folks might be interested in…if enough people express an interest I will create a separate blog post about that.]
#SimpleSolution: If I celebrated Christmas I would skip the artificial tree altogether and buy a potted living plant (any kind of plant – it doesn’t need to be an evergreen!] to use as my Christmas tree and I would plant it in the yard each year after the holiday. This is the best contribution you can make to the planet when celebrating this holiday.
For some Lead-free (or Lead-safe) Christmas choices, Click HERE. [More choices to be posted in this category this coming weekend! Stay tuned!]
I tested this tree for a family in early 2018 and they told me at the time that they purchased the tree “about ten years ago” at Costco.
As always, thank you for reading and thank you for sharing my posts!
Please let me know if you have any questions.
*Amazon links are affiliate links. If you purchase something after clicking on one of my links I may receive a small percentage of what you spend at no extra cost to you.
Melody C. says
I’m just wondering if anyone sent you samples? I just put away my brand new Costco Christmas tree purchased November 2018 and it makes me sick to read this knowing that my toddler touched, decorated and played with and near that tree.
I’m super curious about this too. I also bought a Costco tree last year and I’m just about to put it back up. Did you ever get an answer?
Melody C says
I never did find out. It does have a big warning label on it about children not touching it so I’m guessing that it still does. I actually emailed Costco because I was super upset. We spent $1000 on our tree and it made me sick to think of what was in it. They were really nice. They contacted the manufacturer but couldn’t get more information so they told me just to return it. I’m going to do that this month. I was too embarrassed before the holidays lol. We are getting a real one again. Ikea has cute little fake trees for kid’s rooms without flame retardant or lead though. And they’re inexpensive. I would say they’re modern looking and could be cute decorated! Good luck :).
How did you test your tree? What instrument did you use and how did you go about the procedure? How can we do this for our own trees at home?
This is not something you can do at home. Please check out this link: https://tamararubin.com/2018/12/do-you-want-me-to-test-your-artificial-christmas-tree-for-lead-click-for-more-info/
I just purchased a Costco tree. Have you tested any trees from 2019? I do see it was mfg in China, which has me concerned. The website gives more info pvc and pe leaves. Please tell me if you have recently tested the Costco tree again.
No one has sent me any Costco tree components to test recently. My readers direct what I test and report on.
Have you tested any IKEA trees? I keep reading that they are a safer choice, but I haven’t found any information on IKEA’s website to confirm this. I tried calling IKEA and they couldn’t even tell me if their Vinter 2020 Christmas trees carry a Prop 65 warning! Thanks for any help you can offer!
My understanding is that a real tree with modern lights and ornaments would be lead safe, although antimony could be a problem. But then we don’t know if antimony leaches easily. Do you have any thoughts on that?