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Yes, it’s true. Even our Christmas lights are toxic. They contain lead. And sadly, so does every other appliance which uses a UL approved cord. Some lights actually contain lead in the solder (in addition to the cord) and therefore have lead on the bulb. These lights are manufactured in China and make up the majority of light sets you can buy for a few bucks at any chain store.
We’ve been using these holiday lights for years and yes, they’ve always contained lead. But today, our environment is overrun with toxic substances and heavy metals – in our food, air, pj’s, vaccines, and sadly, even in our Christmas lights.
Additionally, some artificial Christmas trees also contain lead on their plastic (PVC) branches and the plastic, once heated with either lights or sunshine, will form a lead powder. This powder can sprinkle down and decorate our Christmas presents waiting under the tree for tiny tikes to get their hands (and even baby’s mouths) on! Do not be misled (pun intended) – lead is toxic and can cause brain damage.
It seems crazy that in order to be made “safe”, the cord must contain lead. But that is the current status quo. The lead is actually in the PVC of the cord. And you will find this in any corded product (at least those approved by UL) such as hairdryers, electronics equipment, lamps, etc. Some Christmas lights (manufactured outside of the US) also have lead from the solder used.

The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition states:

“Wire coating and cords are usually made of PVC plastic that may contain lead. Lead is used in PVC for several reasons. For wires and cords, lead makes the plastic more flexible and reduces the risk of fire. Lead is also used in many PVC products to stabilize the color. Lead in PVC products can disintegrate into lead-laced dust.

The amount of lead in the lights and other consumer products with warning labels may vary considerably. It is not clear if the amount of lead that is released poses a risk to human health. Some tests show that lead could come off in the hands. Note that nearly all appliance cords are covered with PVC that contains lead.”

See Arkansas based Walmart’s response to the light/lead concern:

“It is our understanding that the manufacturers’ use of lead in these products is to improve the safety of the lights. We are told that the use of lead is required by Underwriters Laboratory, an organization that certifies the safety of lighting products in the United States. The amount of lead used is a tiny amount and does not exceed any applicable federal guidelines. Our holiday lights meet industry standards and are compliant with state and federal regulations governing their sale.
However, the State of California requires a warning label on any product that contains lead in amounts that exceed California’s very low threshold for warning of the presence of lead. The warning doesn’t indicate that the product is illegal to sell. It only indicates that the product contains a substance, which California considers to be hazardous. At the present time, no other state requires a similar warning. To avoid separate packaging, many manufacturers place the Californian-required label on product they ship to other states.”
So, unfortunately, there are no completely lead free lights. Even lights manufactured in the U.S. contain lead (in the cord). It is one more thing that can be added to our never ending list of things to worry about.
There is a safer alternative (although all lights contain lead in the cord in order to be UL approved). LED lights do not contain lead in the solder or on the bulb. And American made Christmas trees are lead free.
This site sells American made, lead free Christmas trees:
This site manufactures lights which are lead-free (except for the cord):
sources: Some Ace Hardware, COSTCO, Hobby Lobby, Kroger, Long’s, and Lowes stores may carry them as well.
NOTE: I have not used these and cannot attest to their performance! I have no connection with the sites linked and accept no responsibility for them.
These lights are also very energy conscious. Instead of burning the typical 350 watts for a 70 light set, the 100 light set burns only 3.6 watts. That means if a traditional wattage set is used 8 hours per day, for 7 days a week, at an $.08 electricity rate, you will save $33 every month!
If you already own an artificial tree, you can have it tested for lead. You can order a test kit from the Environmental Quality Institute at the University of North Carolina. Mail a check for $15, made out to the University of North Carolina-Asheville, to:
Foundation Earth
UNC-A Environmental Quality Institute
CPO 2331
1 University Heights
Asheville, N.C., 28804
There are several things you can do to minimize the risk.
  • Do not allow children to touch the branches.
  • Do not allow children to touch or handle the lights.
  • If you touch the tree, wash your hands thoroughly with soap.
  • Do not vacuum dust from under the tree which could then spread lead dust throughout your home.
  • Use a tree skirt which you can remove and wash weekly.
  • Avoid lights made in China or other foreign countries which do not restrict the use of lead.
  • Wearing gloves, gently wipe down all presents under the tree with a moist cloth on Christmas Eve.

While this is something to be considered seriously, for our family it falls under the “minimum exposure, minimum risk” category. We will still have Christmas lights at our home. But I’m on my way out to purchase a lead-free tree and LED lights.

However, if your child is seriously heavy metal toxic and/or has a known toxicity level of lead, you might think twice about using traditional Christmas lights. Wishing you a safe and happy holiday!