- 2010 - Holiday Lights Press Release

* Hi-Res Photos and Detailed Test Data Analysis Available Upon Request *
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Noon, Wednesday, December 8, 2010 
CONTACT: Jeff Gearhart, 734-761-3186 Ext 117

New Research Finds 4 out of 5 Sets of Christmas and Holiday String Lights Contain Lead Urges CPSC and Manufacturers 
to Phase Out Lead Use Immediately in Lights

Urge Congress to Pass Toxic Chemical Safety Act (HR 5820) to Protect Consumers


(Ann Arbor, MI -- December 8, 2010) – The Ecology Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, today released the new test results on Christmas and Holiday lights at  Researchers tested 68 common varieties of holiday lights for lead, cadmium, arsenic, PVC, and other harmful chemicals in time to help consumers mAccording to researchers at, who have tested more than 7,000 consumer products over the past four years, a significant percentage of holiday lights contain lead and other chemical hazards. The tests showed that 4 out of 5 light sets contained detectable lead and that 28% contained lead at levels which make the product illegal to sell in Europe (greater than 1,000 parts per million).

"Some manufacturers manage to make lights without lead.  So why are we allowing any lead in these products? We have known for decades that lead can poison brains, but manufacturers are still using this compound," said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s Research Director. "The last thing families want to be worrying about during the holidays is whether they are exposing their children to toxic chemicals by decorating their tree.  Both manufacturers and the government should be doing a better job of policing chemicals in products."  

The results can be found on the user-friendly website:  Visitors can look up products by manufacturer, brand, or product type and easily generate lists of highly rated and poorly rated products. tested for chemicals based on their toxicity, persistence and tendency to build up in people and the environment.  Such chemicals have been linked to reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, liver toxicity and cancer.

"You cannot sell products with these levels of lead in Europe, but companies continue to dump these types of hazardous products on US consumers," said Gearhart.  "It's time we had commonsense laws to protect us from toxic chemicals the way virtually ever other industrialized country does. We need a major and comprehensive overhaul of our chemicals policies immediately to start phasing out these dangerous substances."

Highlights from the 2010 holiday light findings, include:

  • Lead Is Everywhere in Holiday Lights — Lead was detected in 79% (54 out of 68) light sets tested by tested both the cable insulation and the bulb base on each light set.  31% of the wiring insulation and 70% of the bulb bases tested contained lead. 
  • Lead Level Higher in US Products —  28% (19) of light sets tested at levels over 1,000 parts per million (ppm) lead, a level that would make these product illegal to sell in Europe.  European regulations (the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive or RoHS) restrict lead in electronics like holiday lights to less than 1,000 ppm. 
  • Most Holiday Lights are Required to Have Hazards Labels:  54% (37) of the light sets tested at levels above 300 ppm.  A California Proposition 65 settlement with electronics manufacturers in 2000 requires labels on these products.  The label language is shown below:

WARNING: This product contains chemicals, including lead, known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.

  • Safer Lights are Possible – Many manufacturers are already doing it:two-thirds (69%) of the cable insulation on the light sets did not contain any lead, including many light sets which were made in China. And almost all brands tested had at least one light set which was lead free.  Lead-free stabilizers are commercially available and already being used.  These results show that manufacturers can make lead-free holiday lights

To sample the holiday lights, experts used a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer that identifies the elemental composition of materials. This accurate device has been used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to screen packaging; the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to screen food;and, by many State and County Health Departments to screen for residential lead paint. recommends consumers follow common sense precautions when handling holiday lights, including:

  • Wear gloves and wash hands when handling holiday lights.
  • Keep lights and cords out of reach of small children and pets when possible.
  • Look for lights that are RoHS compliant lights.  RoHS or the Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive is law in the European Union and restricts the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated dephenyl ethers (PBDE).
  • Some sources claim to carry RoHS compliant lights, include IKEA and (Note: did test either company’s products).
  • Ask your local retailer to only stock lights that are RoHS compliant or, better yet, lead free!

About – is based on research conducted by environmental health organizations and other researchers around the country. The Ecology Center created and leads its research and development. The Ecology Center is a Michigan-based nonprofit environmental organization that works at the local, state, and national levels for clean production, healthy communities, environmental justice, and a sustainable future.


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