Are Your Christmas Decorations Making You Sick?

You’re looking forward to Christmas – it’s wonderful to spend the time with your family, enjoying each other’s company, decorating the tree, and carrying on traditions you grew up with.

But every year, at least one of you gets sick.

The illness starts with a runny nose and a cough, but always involves a headache, a hard time concentrating, and constant tiredness.

Not fun while you’re celebrating!

And the illness always seems to last until the new year, when the decorations get put away again.

What if the holiday decorations were to blame?

Keeping your family well and safe is your number one priority, so it may come as a shock to realize that many of the festive decorations you display around the home may be putting the health of your family at risk!

What Is Christmas Tree Syndrome?

Christmas Tree Syndrome may sound cute – like you can’t decide exactly how to decorate your tree this year, and it’s causing you to pile on the decorations but it’s actually pretty unpleasant.

When you buy a living tree to decorate your home, you end up with more trouble than just loose pine needles. Scientists have discovered that by bringing a real traditional fir tree into your home you are introducing mold – they found 53 types of mold on the bark and pine needles of 28 trees.1 The moistness of the tree and the way you water it combined with the warmth in your home creates the right kind of humidity for the mold to thrive – and release spores.

Mold spores can trigger asthma attacks, and be a real problem for anyone in your family who has allergies, or is immunocompromised.2 While mold spores can usually be neutralized by your child’s immune system, prolonged exposure can lead to mold sickness.

Mold sickness symptoms manifest in the following ways:

  • Runny nose and streaming eyes, resembling an allergic reaction
  • Constant headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Cough and wheezing in infants3

Additionally, you should weigh up the risks of bringing in pesticides and pollen allergens when taking a real Christmas tree into your house.

Are PVC Christmas Trees Dangerous?

Artificial Christmas trees are usually made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic polymer used widely in manufacturing. Often PVC is mixed with phthalates, a toxin, to make it softer to the touch. But more troublingly, PVC is often mixed with other toxins, such as lead or tin, to stabilize the plastic.

PVC also emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are used in the manufacture of many homegoods, but can easily become a gas.

Your family can be exposed to VOCs from your tree in four ways:

  1. By inhaling what is known as ‘off-gassing’ from a brand new tree
  2. When your tree is close to a source of heat – or decked with Christmas lights – the heat helps VOCs discharge into the air.
  3. VOCs can be absorbed by simply touching the tree.
  4. After nine years, your PVC tree begins to break down, releasing more VOCs into the air.

Young children, the elderly, and those with asthma are most vulnerable to the effects of VOCs.

Exposure to VOCs can cause the following symptoms4:

  • Headache
  • Eye and throat irritation
  • Brain fog
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

More worryingly, studies show a link between VOCs and cancer.5

So PVC Christmas trees are not a great alternative to a real tree. In fact, any type of artificial tree can be a risk to your family’s health once you consider how they are stored most of the year, in the basement, attic or garage. Surrounded by dust and mold spores, your artificial Christmas tree has the potential to cause allergic havoc for your family, and harm their health.

Can Christmas Decorations Make You Sick?

You may hope that the toxin load from the holidays is only related to your Christmas tree. But the Ecology Center tested a number of holiday decorations in 2014 from major retailers in the US, and the results were troubling.6 Products such as artificial wreaths, tinsel, stockings, decorative bows, bead garlands, and figurines, were shown to be highly toxic.

The researchers found that these products contained:

  • Bromine – in a gas form can irritate your eyes or throat. Bromine is classed as a endocrine disruptor, as long term exposure can interfere with your thyroid function.7 The element can also increase the chances of development issues in children.8
  • Chlorine – low level exposure can cause wheezing, coughing, nose, eye and throat irritation, with the potential of long term memory problems.9 10
  • Lead – a known poison, the metal can be ingested or inhaled. Exposure can cause an allergic reaction, headaches, high blood pressure, and impair cognitive function in children.11 12 Lead can be found in high concentrations in holiday lights, but also in decorations – which are often grabbed and put in the mouth of small children.
  • Antimony – an element that’s used in making enamel ceramics and pottery, glass and paints, all elements used in common Christmas tree baubles. Antimony exposure can cause respiratory issues, gastrointestinal symptoms, and is a possible cause of cancer.13
  • Tin – another element toxic to humans, tin is still used in making metallic holiday decorations. Your family can ingest tin through breathing it in, touching it or – if your child is young enough – tasting it. Tin exposure can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, irritation of your nose and eyes, and neurological defects.14

Much like many mass-produced products in the US, Christmas decorations can be potentially harmful to your family’s health, whether a family member has asthma or autoimmunity, or even if your family is perfectly healthy. The deals you find in the big box stores are not worth the risk to your health.

9 Tips to Decorate Safely for the Holidays

Okay, we’ve explained the risks, but don’t worry, there’s no need to cancel Christmas just yet! Here are our top tips for decorating for the holidays without risking your family’s health.

  1. Shop around for your real tree – opt for a pesticide free farm where possible.
  2. Spray Homebiotic on your real tree when it arrives, and once every few days after. Homebiotic is made up of the friendly type of bacteria that love to block mold, and keep it in check so it can’t release spores!
  3. Ditch the heirloom ornaments and Christmas lights – because of ingredients like lead, it’s best to remove risky items. Look for the RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) compliant symbol on lights, a European standard that is much more thorough than that in the US.
  4. Make your own decorations or choose decorations made out of natural materials like pinecones, wool, wood, or felt. These can also be sprayed with Homebiotic to reduce mold.
  5. Store safe decorations in vacuum bags in lidded plastic containers for the rest of the year to ensure protection from mold, dust, or other allergens.
  6. Buy a PVC free Christmas tree – the packaging must state PVC free. PVC free trees are made of polyethylene (PE). Unfortunately, these are often treated with fire retardants – another mix of dangerous toxins. Whatever you choose, do not pick a ‘pre-lit’ tree with lights already installed.
  7. Store your artificial Christmas tree carefully, ideally bagged before being placed in lidded plastic containers.
  8. If you need an artificial tree – think differently. There are some wooden Christmas trees that are very striking (and can be sprayed with Homebiotic regularly, as it’s very gentle).

Use the same methods you use all year round to clean the air in your home and protect your family – make sure your air purifier is on, use your HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, and spray Homebiotic to manage mold, without resorting to harsh chemicals.

Start protecting your home today, and get 5% off your next order!

Start protecting your home today, and get 5% off your next order!

REFERENCES:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21624760
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27986496
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21624760
4. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/volatile-organic-compounds-vocs
5. https://iaqscience.lbl.gov/voc-cancer
6. https://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/reports/ghosts-christmas-past
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8320326
8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4418502/
9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136961/
10. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/chlorine
11. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/lead
12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1247191/
13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037053/
14. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=541&tid=98

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