For those new to this website:
Tamara Rubin is a multiple-federal-award-winning independent advocate for childhood Lead-poisoning prevention and consumer goods safety, and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children (two of her four sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in 2005). Since 2009, Tamara has been using XRF technology (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants (specifically heavy metals — including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic). Tamara’s work was featured in Consumer Reports Magazine in February of 2023 (March 2023 print edition).
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Published: November 7, 2019
Consider adopting a new holiday tradition for your family.
Please consider a new holiday tradition.
Take a look at the photos shown here, and then do a Google search for “babies wrapped in Christmas lights” or “baby wrapped in Christmas lights.” This is currently a very popular trend and most new parents (and their portrait photographers for that matter) have absolutely no idea of the concern for potential Lead exposure to these young children during these photo sessions.
Important points to be aware of:
- Up until very recently, nearly all Christmas lights had very high levels of Lead.
- In most new plug-in Christmas lights, Lead (which causes brain damage in young children and which all relevant government agencies agree is not safe in any amount) has been replaced, as the traditional fire retardant of choice — with high levels of Antimony (periodic table of elements symbol: Sb), a known carcinogen. (Said another way, Antimony causes cancer).
- New holiday lights can STILL have unsafe levels of Lead — this is not an area that is well regulated or closely monitored by public agencies — because they are not considered toys.
- The toxic chemicals on these holiday light strands are present in a form that CAN and DOES wear off onto the hands of the users (including children holding them for their photos). It is for this reason (among others) that the packaging and labels for these products generally have very clear and obvious warnings (not helpful once the package has been thrown out and the tag has been removed, of course)!
- As you can see from the photos shared with this article, children will — given age-appropriate normal behavior — put these lights (and ornaments) in their mouths. Of course, the potential for electrocution is a concern, but the potential for exposure to heavy metal toxicants is a much more real and likely concern — not to mention that it is a 100% preventable source of potentially toxic heavy metal exposure.
- Ornaments (especially the traditional fragile glass ball variety) — can also have high levels of Lead and Antimony. Such ornaments may even test positive for Mercury, Cadmium, or Arsenic (depending on the age or color). This is also the case for vintage and antique ornaments, metal ornaments, and painted wooden or glazed ceramic ornaments (especially the older ones and, statistically, those produced in Mexico, Italy, or Portugal).
- Click here to see an example of Christmas lights (c. 2008) that are 15,000 ppm Lead.
- Click here to see an example of Christmas lights (from 2018) that are more than 24,000 ppm Antimony (and also tested positive for Arsenic).
To see more Christmas items (dishes and decorations) we have tested for toxicants using XRF technology, click here.
The amount of Lead considered toxic in an item intended for use by children is anything 90 ppm or higher in the paint, glaze, or coating and anything 100 ppm or higher in the substrate. Items not made and sold expressly with the intent of being used by children (and especially items with blatant warning labels, as most Christmas lights have) should never be used by children and ESPECIALLY not by babies.
But it’s just for a minute …
To those who might argue that this sort of use is “just for a moment,” and therefore couldn’t possibly impact a child in a negative way, I (a mother of children with brain damage and disabilities from being poisoned as babies and toddlers) reiterate:
- There is no safe level of Lead exposure for children.
- It just takes a (literally) microscopic amount of Lead to poison a child.
- The amount of Lead in dust or coatings on a product (like Christmas lights or an artificial Christmas tree) that it would take to poison a child is (literally) invisible to the naked eye.
- Normal hand-to-mouth activity in children of this age means you can EXPECT children to put these items in their mouth during a photo shoot.
- If they are given the opportunity to play with these during a photoshoot, that also constitutes a “learning opportunity” for the child. By having a photo session like this, you are inadvertently and accidentally teaching that child that these items are acceptable and safe playthings.
- By taking these photos as a holiday tradition you are also setting an example for other young parents to follow in future generations. Please don’t take that responsibility lightly.
- The concern here is not necessarily for a single incidental exposure, it is more a concern for total aggregate exposure to Lead from all possible sources — and there are a LOT of possible sources around the holidays! It is our job as parents to create safe homes and environments for our children and all of the world’s children. If you can prevent your child’s exposure to even one small potential source of toxic chemicals, you should. That is your responsibility as a parent or guardian. That undertaking can start with small, easy, and obvious steps.
Here are some alternative ideas for holiday photos
(please also share your ideas in the comments on this piece!):
- Photo of your baby surrounded by wrapped presents.
- Photo of your baby in a pile of fall leaves.
- Photo of your baby surrounded by Christmas-themed/ holiday-themed stuffed animals (made for use by children).
- Photo of your baby sitting next to a poinsettia* or next to a pine tree.
- Photo of your child surrounded by pre-made holiday wrapping bows.
- Photo of your baby sitting on a holiday-themed quilt.
Wait, aren’t poinsettias poisonous too?
*Note: Poinsettias have long been falsely rumored to be toxic. I just googled the concern and came up with this great bit of information (link to the original source here, on WebMD):
“No one is sure how this myth started, although it’s often attributed to the 1919 death of a girl whose parents thought she had eaten poinsettia leaves. The truth is, a kid would have to eat about 500 poinsettia leaves to get sick.”
Thank you for reading and sharing these articles. I look forward to hearing your holiday baby photo alternative ideas!
Owner – Lead Safe Mama, LLC