Is Your Artificial Christmas Tree Toxic?
Tips to reduce your exposure to these hazardous chemicals
Artificial Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular for families. They're seen as being convenient since they don't shed needles and can be reused year after year. Because they can be reused, families tend to save money by choosing artificial trees over a real one. A study from the The American Christmas Tree Association (yes that is a real and reputable organization!) performed a life cycle analysis and found that one artificial tree that's reused for eight or more Christmases is more environmentally friendly than purchasing a real tree each year (1). The study also found that Christmas trees, both real and fake, accounted for a tiny part (< 0.1%) of a person's annual carbon footprint.
But are artificial Christmas trees as good for your health as they are for your wallet? The majority of artificial trees are made using a plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and lead, which is used to stabilize PVC (2). The lead in the trees break down over time and forms lead dust. These particles are released into the air and can cause health issues, especially in young children. Most people do not realize that artificial trees contain lead, and only California requires a lead warning label (2). It is estimated that there are 50 million households in the United States that own artificial trees with lead in them (3).
Don't panic! If you are an owner of an artificial Christmas tree made out of PVC, there are precautions you can take to reduce your family's exposure to lead.
- PVC releases more gases when it is first exposed to air. They also release gases as they degrade. A good way to reduce the amount of lead in your household is to take the tree out of the box and air it outside when you first purchase it (4).
- If you have used your artificial tree for many Christmases, you may want to consider purchasing a new one. PVC tends to weaken and degrade after nine years (4). Newer artificial trees do not leach as much lead as older ones.
- Light cords that come with your artifical tree are prone to have levels of lead that exceed the limit set by the EPA (4). It is recommended that you wash your hands immediately after touching light cords. And definitely don't let young children handle cords.
If you're currently tree-less and in the market for an artificial one, consider purchasing a tree made out of polyethylene. This plastic is safer than PVC and does not leach lead. Additionally, trees made out of polyethylene tend to be more durable than PVC trees.
While artificial PVC Christmas trees don't pose a high health risk overall to the general population, it's very possible for young children to have severe negative health effects (3). It's important to be aware of the health risks that go along with trees made out of PVC, and the ways to avoid lead exposure for yourself and your family this holiday season.