Here’s the general introduction I provide on a lot of my posts, for those who may be new to (or have possibly “stumbled upon”) my work – while just casually browsing, or conducting more serious research:
Tamara Rubin is an internationally recognized, Federal-award-winning independent advocate for consumer goods safety and childhood Lead-poisoning prevention. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children. She began testing consumer goods for toxicants in 2009, and was the parent-advocate responsible for finding Lead in the popular fidget spinner toys in 2017. She uses XRF testing (a scientific method used by the Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for metallic toxicants (including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, and Arsenic). All test results reported here on LeadSafeMama.com are science-based, accurate and replicable. To read more about the testing methodology employed for the test results reported on this blog, please click this link.
On the red plastic of the ball
- Lead (Pb): 213 +/- 19 ppm
- Cadmium (Cd): 112 +/- 7 ppm
- Mercury (Hg): non-detect
- Bromine (Br): 17,800 +/- 200 ppm
- Chromium (Cr): 378 +/- 24 ppm
- Vanadium (V): 688 +/- 54 ppm
- Iron (Fe): 212 +/- 15 ppm
- Nickel (Ni): 52 +/- 8 ppm
- Copper (Cu): 21 +/- 7 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 180 +/- 7 ppm
- Arsenic (As): 51,700 +/- 500 ppm
- Titanium (Ti): 1,799 +/- 92 ppm
- Tin (Sn): 71 +/- 9 ppm
- Antimony (Sb): 4,198 +/- 54 ppm
- No other metals detected in consumer goods mode.
Suggestions, Solutions & Safer Choices
Most posts on the Lead Safe Mama blog also have links to suggestions for specific safer choices and / or more general guidelines for making safer (related) choices for your family. This includes this article (that you are reading right now) which has both guidelines for safer choices for Christmas decor as a whole – as well as a bit of a summary about which toxicants (which poisonous heavy metals specifically) can be found (using XRF technology) in which types of decor (to help give you an idea of what to avoid.)
Towards the bottom of this post specifically I have written a brief summary of ten easy suggestions / guidelines to follow with some simple fun ideas for making safer choices for your Christmas decor. I also invite you to visit my friend Carissa’s site CreativeGreenLiving.com, where she focuses on fun non-toxic projects you can do at home with your family (many of which are decor related!)
And to start you off, here are some clickable “Christmas” category links to get you started in your search on this blog!
- Christmas: https://tamararubin.com/category/christmas/
- Artificial Christmas Trees: https://tamararubin.com/category/artificial-christmas-tree/
- Christmas Ornaments: https://tamararubin.com/category/christmas-ornaments/
- Christmas Mugs: https://tamararubin.com/category/christmas-mugs/
- Christmas China: https://tamararubin.com/category/christmas-china/
- Christmas Decorations: https://tamararubin.com/category/christmas-decoration/
- Santa: https://tamararubin.com/category/santa/
“Christmas” does not equal
“intended for use by kids.”
The most important thing to remember when decorating your home for the holidays is that most Christmas decor (and other holiday decor too!) is – from a manufacturing & regulatory perspective classified as “not intended for use by children”(!) This is true for both vintage and new items! [This means they are exempt from much (if not all) of the regulatory protections that limit toxicants in items classified as “intended for use by children”.]
Christmas items are not toys
While many Christmas items may LOOK like toys (or may look like something a child would play with – and are therefore very attractive to children) they are simply NOT toys.
- Painted items: Many Christmas decor items (including ornaments – especially wood, glass or metal ornaments, both antique or new) are painted with Lead-containing paint, or (if they are red) with high–Cadmium-content paint or glaze. Cadmium is a known carcinogen, you can read more about Cadmium on this link.
- Plastic: Plastics – including many ornaments that go on the tree (including plastic decorative ball ornaments) or other plastic electric items (specifically items that plug in – like a pre-lit artificial Christmas tree) are likely to either be high in Lead (which causes brain damage in young children) or to have high levels of Antimony (which is known to cause cancer in rats) – as one or both have been applied as flame retardants to these types of products.
- Metal: Pewter or other solid metal ornaments can be made with unsafe levels of Lead (as is true with most heavy shiny yellow Leaded brass) or unsafe levels of Antimony. Vintage or antique pewter items are generally very high Lead. Newer pewter items tend to be high in Antimony. Functional items made of pewter (like decorative serving trays or tea sets) should NEVER be considered safe for food use, BTW. Most pewter that is marked “Lead-free” still actually has unsafe levels of Lead — even if Lead is no longer a main constituent in the substrate of the item! [And in most cases, the bulk of the “missing” Lead in so-called “Lead-free” pewter has been replaced with Antimony — which can be just as toxic, if not more so!]
- Christmas Trees: Artificial Christmas trees are generally either high in Lead or high in Antimony as well. The California “Prop 65” warnings that come with many of these items are NOT a “CYA” (Cover Your Ass) warning “just put there by the manufacturer just to be safe”! They are legitimate warning labels — because these products legally contain toxic chemicals (mostly applied or integrated into the product to comply with flammability regulations.)
- Vintage Ceramics: Vintage ceramics designed for the holidays (especially vintage Christmas mugs) are not generally safe for food use and should NOT be given to children (like with hot cocoa) — unless they have specifically been tested and have been shown to be both Lead-free and non-leaching (of any toxic chemicals.)
- New Ceramics: New holiday ceramics can also be high-Lead (although they may or may not be leaching when new). In fact, many new Christmas ceramic items (like decorative trays and bowls and platters) actually may never have been leach-tested — because they are considered to be “decor” and not functional food use items (even though the practical application of these items may indeed be for food.)
- Twinkly lights: Plug-in holiday string lights generally have high levels of either Lead or Antimony in the cords and bulb holders. This goes for both new and vintage / older light strings as well as plug in trees and other plug in holiday decor items. Based on the testing I have done, older light strings are more likely to have unsafe levels of Lead and newer light strings are more likely to have high (potentially unsafe) levels of Antimony.
As a result, most Christmas items (including brand new Christmas china and ornaments) can LEGALLY have unsafe levels of XRF-detectable heavy metals including (but not limited to) Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, Antimony, — and even Mercury!
“Tamara, what I am supposed to do about this? It seems like toxic chemicals are everywhere!” The answer is simple (and inexpensive too!) “Go Old-School!”
If you want to decorate your tree and home in a child-safe and nontoxic way, I recommend going “old-school.” For me, what this means is decorating in the way your grandparents or great grandparents may have decorated (before rabid consumerism and mass-manufactured products took over the holidays!)
Here are TEN simple steps you can take…
(things you may have time for because you are home with kids for the pandemic!)
- MAKE the decorations yourself!
- Decorate with fruit, flowers, pine cones and strings of popcorn,
- Decorate with drawings and ornaments made from scratch by your children.
- Sew fabric decorations (this is a great teaching opportunity for the kids!)
- Knit (or crochet!) some of your decorations!
- Use colorful ribbons and strings to decorate the tree.
- If you are hardcore environmentalist, you may also choose to use a reusable-potted plant instead of a cut-down (and later throw-away!) tree.
- Purchase safe ornaments. Some brands may have ornaments expressly designed for use by children — and they are usually marked to indicate that. (I know Hallmark carries child-safe ornaments. Modern – new ornaments from Disney are likely safe as well – as long as they are marked that they are intended to be used by children.)
- If you must use string lights, the battery operated fairy light style string lights tend to test negative for both Lead and Antimony (the main environmental consideration then becomes the batteries – and to address that concern, you can get some long-lasting rechargeable / reusable batteries!)
- Instead of using Christmas-themed decorative china – use your everyday dishes – and just make sure the food on the plates is festive. Who notices the china under a nice gingerbread man, anyway? — it’s the cookie that matters, not the dishes! Here’s a link to the (rather festive, but simple) dishes we use every day in our home.*
As always, thank you for being here. Thank you for reading and sharing my posts. Please let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them personally as soon as I have a moment!