The holidays are marked with homes, stores, and streets decorated with a plethora of merry products and ornaments. However fun and festive holiday décor may be, there is a serious and concerning aspect that can accompany many decorations such as lights, garlands, and toys. Unbeknownst to many consumers, products such as these often contain toxins known as endocrine disruptors. Decorations that contain heavy metals, phthalates, and/or PVC can cause serious damage to our bodies by negatively impacting the endocrine system.
The Dangers of Endocrine Disruptors
Hormones are critical in nearly every system of the body. Because the endocrine system is essentially in charge of how hormones interact and are produced, any impact on this system can affect the rest of the body. General concerns with overexposure to endocrine disruptors include:
- Early occurrence of puberty
- Ovarian, prostate, and breast cancers
There are several common endocrine disruptors found in holiday products and toys that if avoided, could reduce the risk of the previously listed conditions.
Toxic metals such as lead, and barium, are often found in painted toys, plastic garlands and wreaths, vintage ornaments, and most of all, Christmas lights. When lead enters the body it is misconstrued as calcium or another essential nutrient. This can lead to improper balance of important nutrients causing devastating deficiencies. Exposure to heavy metals, specifically lead, has been associated with,
- Learning disabilities and reduced IQ
- Behavioral problems
- Kidney damage
- Damage to the nervous system
- High blood pressure/hypertension
- Muscle pain
With so many serious conditions linked to lead, it is unsurprising that the CDC (center for disease control) has stated that there is no safe level of exposure to this metal. Unfortunately, because it is so common in certain products, such as Christmas lights, it can be difficult to avoid. For this reason, it is highly recommended to wear gloves while handling or working with holiday lights and to wash one’s hands thoroughly after completion.
In a study conducted by the Ecology Center, 13% of the products they tested had lead levels above the regulated acceptable amount of 100 ppm (parts per million). 12% of the products contained bromine above 800 ppm, which points to overstepping of the suggested safety limit for flame retardants.
Bromated fire retardants (PBDE’s) are also known endocrine disruptors in addition to being carcinogenic. Many products including synthetic trees, wreaths, mistletoe, and fake poinsettias are often doused in flame retardants to prevent risk of combustion. However, fire prevention at the cost of one’s health is not a particularly great position to be in. Long-term exposure to chemicals such as bromine and other common chemicals used in flame retardants can significantly increase the risk of cancer.
Avoiding products that have been covered in flame retardants is not as difficult as it may seem, but the benefit is significant. By replacing synthetic décor with natural alternatives, such as, wool felt, wood, seasonal berry branches, and a real tree can give one’s home a cozy feel without running the risk of spreading toxins. By abstaining from carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting products you can help keep your home healthy.
PVC and Phthalates:
As a cheap and easily produced material, PVC is often used in toys and decorations. This endocrine disruptor runs rampant in homes and stores during the holidays. Unfortunately, carcinogens such as vinyl chloride and dioxin, both involved in the production and degradation of PVC, can harm not only those who handle products but can pervade the surrounding air as well.
Through a process known as off gassing, PVC releases volatile organic compounds into the air, which irritates the eyes, nose, and lungs. It is most impactful when PVC products are freshly opened and come in contact with the air. In order to minimize the harm caused by this release of chemicals, air out your already purchased PVC products outside away from others. Furthermore, PVC has a known shelf life of 9 years. After that period, the material begins to degrade and break down causing further leakage of all the harmful chemicals contained within it.
Another category of dangerous toxins called phthalates are usually contained in PVC. These endocrine disruptors are used as plasticizers in PVC products to increase strength and pliability. Unfortunately, this also increases their toxicity. Phthalates are linked to neurological damage, reproductive difficulties, and inhibition of the immune system. These chemicals accomplish this by entering the body and mimicking one’s naturally produced hormones (male, female, and thyroid). Doing so interferes with, or disrupts, the endocrine system, which impacts the entire body. Hormone production and regulation is one of the most delicate and critical processes in the body. Avoiding products and chemicals that have a negative impact on those processes can only be beneficial.
In a recent study conducted by the Ecology Center, 69 seasonal products acquired through various big name stores such as Target, Walmart, and CVS, were tested for dangerous chemicals and endocrine disruptors. Two thirds of the items tested were found to contain one or more of the various toxic and hazardous materials noted throughout this article. Products such as garlands, artificial wreaths, stockings, figurines, and gift bags contained a variety of endocrine disruptors like lead, flame retardants, tin compounds, and phthalates. It may come as a shock that these products that so commonly enter the home contain such dangerous materials. Even more shocking is that seasonal decoration is largely unregulated. If a product is not labeled specifically for children, the legal requirement regarding inclusion of toxic materials is severely reduced. In fact, restrictions on lead, cadmium and phthalates become non-existent if the product is not targeted at children.
Happy Healthy Homes for the Holidays
The first step in avoiding endocrine disruptors and other toxic chemicals in seasonal products is being informed. Now that you know more about them, you can take steps to reduce exposure to these deceptive and dangerous decorations. Replacing store bought decorations with handmade ornaments or natural alternatives such as wreaths, trees, and seasonal greenery can keep out PVC and phthalates while creating a festive holiday home. Avoiding lead in holiday products, especially lights, can be difficult but if you keep your eyes open and search for non-toxic replacements, your body will thank you. During this holiday season treat yourself to a happier home and better health by avoiding endocrine disruptors in seasonal products.