Toxic Compounds Detected in Christmas Decorations

Holiday decorations contain nasty flame retardants and other unnecessary chemicals.

December 6, 2013


Holiday decorations are meant to bring good cheer—not carcinogens—into your home. But a new report shows that not even your Christmas decorations are always 100 percent safe when it comes to toxic chemicals.

ADVERTISEMENT, a project of The Ecology Center, recently tested the composition of the increasingly popular plastic garland beads people use on Christmas trees and in other holiday decorating schemes. Looking at 19 holiday garlands (and the similar Mardi Gras beads popular during the late-winter holiday), they found that the plastic beads contain chemicals and heavy metals linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity, and cancer!

Specifically, the holiday garland contained dangerously high levels of heavy metals and halogens associated with toxic flame-retardant chemicals.

The samples tested came from plastic garlands and beads sold at CVS, Walgreens, Lowe's, Home Depot, Target, and Walmart. While it sounds like a good thing, the beads are full of recycled plastic material—and that includes waste from toxic electronics."These plastic bead products are being used as a dumping ground for old plastic waste, which is loaded with toxic chemicals," says Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center's principal researcher. "We estimate that a single year's inventory of Mardi Gras beads may contain up to 900,000 pounds of hazardous flame retardants and 10,000 pounds of lead."

According to the report, about 74 percent of the beaded holiday garlands tested featured high bromide levels, suggesting the use of brominated flame retardants; about 40 percent had high chlorine levels, suggesting chlorine-based flame retardants. Two-thirds of the holiday decorations had high levels of lead, including one garland purchased at Lowe's that contained a whopping 4,161 parts per million (ppm) of lead. (For comparison, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission limits lead in children's products to 100 ppm.)

This report is the latest reminder that plastics infiltrate nearly every aspect of our lives. A few months ago, a similar report found that those popular black serving utensils we all use contained flame-retardant chemicals. Again, the contamination is believed to come from electronic waste infiltrating the recycling stream.

This serves as another reminder to bypass plastic when you're shopping. Instead, try these fun, ecofriendly Christmas tree alternatives that incorporate plastic-free and reclaimed materials.