During the holidays, the last thing on many people’s minds is avoiding potential health hazards. However, there are a number of season-specific sources of toxins that could quickly spoil your celebrations. The good news is that there are simple things you can do to avoid these risks and ensure your holidays are spent safely.
Out With The Old, In With The New
Holidays are all about tradition, but this could be putting you and your loved ones at risk when it comes to those decorations that have been in your family for generations. Up until the 1940s or so, seasonal fake snow and decorations with fake snow accents were manufactured with asbestos, a natural mineral that when disturbed and breathed in can cause mesothelioma.
When compared with the health risks that come from long-term asbestos exposure (from construction work, military, etc.), the risk of developing serious health problems from asbestos in consumer products may be relatively low, but according to the EPA there is no safe level of asbestos. It is in you and your family’s best interest to eliminate the risk altogether, especially when the solution is simple: swap out the old for new. If you already have your decorations up, make the trip to the year-end holiday clearance sales for great deals on new decorations.
The No-Gift List
December is National Safe Toys and Gifts month, and we’ve got a gift list made for you to help you shop safely (we’ve already checked it twice). Sadly, asbestos can still be found in a number of products (generally those that require heat-resistant properties) that you may be contemplating as stocking stuffers or presents for children. Most recently, it was found in boxes of talc-based crayons and crime lab toy kits with fingerprinting powder. Do your due diligence if any of these are on your list:
- Children’s toys like the crime lab kit
- Potting soil containing vermiculite
- Hair dryers
- Appliances like toasters and coffee makers
Be especially careful when shopping at thrift stores and markets that sell antique goods, given that asbestos was more commonly used in consumer products during the early and mid 20th century.
Oh Christmas Tree
For many people, artificial Christmas trees are the answer to avoiding a yearly hassle of finding fresh (and often expensive) evergreens. However, the older the artificial tree, the greater the potential for lead contamination. While the health related risks to lead contaminated artificial trees is poorly researched, it’s best to make sure your tree was made in the 21st century.
Seasonal plants like poinsettias, Christmas cactus, holly, and mistletoe berries make their long-awaited debut on kitchen tables and elsewhere throughout homes. However, if you’re one of the estimated 80% of homes with a furry friend, be extra cautious to keep these plants out of their reach or opt for pet-safe plants instead. These festive flowers are poisonous to your pets and can cause vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and dehydration if ingested.
Open Fires, Closed Windows
We’ve already warned you about the risks associated with indoor air pollution and how to mitigate those risks, but this point becomes increasingly important during the colder months when windows are more likely to be sealed up tight more often. On top of that, “open fires” don’t make their way into classic holiday songs for nothing; many households enjoy some form of a festive fireplace, such as vent-free gas logs, which increase air pollution. So, make the effort to air out your home often, and decorate with seasonal plants that pack a pollution-fighting punch.