To Tree Or Not To Tree – A Look Into The Hidden Chemicals In Artificial & Real Christmas Trees

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Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
la la la,
la la la la,
la la la la la la

The Christmas season is definitely my favorite time of year. It is a time to celebrate the beauty of life. A time to bless and be blessed. A time of prayer and reflection. In the spirit of the upcoming season I’ll share some lines I penned a few years ago as I was going through a particularly difficult time, I hope it blesses you.

“Cover me oh Lord with your tears of mercy – rain from the sky that you created.
Cover me oh Lord with the sweet essence of your spirit – a blanket to my days of winter.

Cover me oh Lord with the humility of the manger – make me malleable in your arms and ready to receive the true Christmas gift, the birth of your son.”

I wanted to write this post because I love everything that surrounds the Christmas season and I love people. As each year passes more and more fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, and sisters are being hurt by chemicals in our environment and in the products we bring into our homes.
Christmastime can sadly turn into a toxic holiday with chemical exposures from toys, candles, decorations, and moldy Christmas trees. For the purpose of this post, I will zone into one area, Christmas trees.

The Christmas Tree Dilemma – Artificial Or Real

I was speaking to a friend recently and we were discussing the health risks associated with purchasing a real tree. My friend mentioned that she was most likely going to purchase an artificial tree. Another friend when discussing the tree topic said she does not stand for the cutting down of innocent trees, she argued that artificial trees were the way to go because in her opinion they are a safe and sustainable option. But are they?

In plain Jane terms: Artificial trees are made from plastic which contains toxic chemicals and most artificial trees are treated with flame retardants which seems to be an industry standard for Christmas lights, decorations, pajamas, and a few other items.

Real trees are also treated with toxic chemicals like the herbicide we’ve all come to know and hate called “Roundup”.

So what’s a gal or guy to do? Both real and artificial trees come with potential risks to human health and to the environment. Below I’ve compiled risks, tips, and facts associated with each option.
Please note that if you have reactions to your real Christmas tree, mold could definitely be the culprit. Also, pesticides and terpenes found in the sap can cause reactions in adults and children.

My hope is that the information here will help you make a well-informed choice on what is the best option for you and your family.

Real Trees

🎄 Trees can arrive contaminated with mold due to moisture on branches and needles. Mold can develop in 24 to 48 hours if conditions are favorable. Most trees are chopped, wrapped, and loaded for transport which makes this problem worse. People with asthma, allergies, lung issues and weakened immune systems need to be especially careful with moldy trees although they can affect healthy people too. *Updated, click here for an article that discusses moldy trees causing health reactions.

🎄 Trees are treated with any or all of the following chemicals some of which have been shown to cause damage to aquatic animals, bee colonies, and have been listed as cancer-causing to humans. For information on each chemical below simply copy the name and type it into the search bar of this link, you can also read about the harmful effects of these pesticides by clicking here.
Acephate, Atrazine, Biphenthrin, Carbaryl, Chlorpyrifos, Lorsban, Cyfluthrin, Diazinon, Dimethoate, Esfenvalerate, Ethion, Fenbutatin-oxide, Fenitrothion, Fluvalinate, Hexazinone, Hexythiazox, Glyphosate (the main ingredient in RoundUp), Isazofos, Malathion, Oxydemeton-methyl, Oxythioquinox, Permethrin.

🎄 “Many pesticides will have been removed from (Christmas) trees by rain and ultraviolet light by the time they are harvested,” says Dr. Thomas Arcury, Ph.D., professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “However, some will remain and, in particular, one, the systemic pesticide di-syston 15-G, may be present in the tree.”

🎄 Jill Pennington, a plant pathologist and forestry specialist at North Carolina State University has said that pesticide use on trees has dramatically reduced in the last decade, an estimated 50 percent.

🎄 Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other chemicals used on or around Christmas tree plantations pose secondary issues for the environment, insects, and wildlife.

🎄 Some states require that trees brought in from other states be treated with additional pesticides just before the trees are harvested. After speaking to a few Christmas Tree distributors in my state I was told that trees must be treated with Bifenthrin in addition to any pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides used prior to harvesting. Please be sure to check your state’s agricultural laws to see if additional pesticides are required on trees sold in your state.

🎄 If you must have a real Christmas tree, you could try standing your tree outdoors and washing it a few times in a fragrance-free soap.  Using a hose rinse well and let the tree dry completely before placing it indoors. This may help eliminate some of the remaining pesticides. Be sure to use gloves and protect eyes with googles. You could also opt for a potted tree and give it a rinse before bringing indoors.

🎄Organic trees void of synthetic chemicals can be purchased. These trees still contain chemicals used for pests but they are naturally derived. Human toxicity ratings for these chemicals is low but some may be harmful to fishes and other wildlife.

Artificial Trees

🎄 I searched through 30 plus websites for artificial Christmas trees and most of the trees I found were treated with flame retardants especially those sold at Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco.
“Flame retardants migrate from products to air, house dust, and the outdoor environment. You can inhale them, ingest them, or absorb them through your skin. Kids often have higher levels of flame retardants in their bodies because they put their hands and household items in their mouths, and swallow contaminated dust.” Source

🎄Lead is used to stabilize PVC plastic which is then used for the creation of most Christmas trees. Lead is a potent neurotoxin and especially dangerous for babies and older children.

🎄IKEA sells an artificial Christmas tree that is not made from PVC, potentially minimizing exposure to lead and phthalates but contains other chemical components. I’m currently researching companies that sell Christmas trees made with a PE + PVC mix and with 100% PE.  PE (Polyethylene) has been mentioned as a safer plastic for cosmetic and commercial use. Please check back soon for a list of companies that carry lead-free and PVC free trees.

🎄 “Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Workers in PVC manufacturing facilities and residents of surrounding communities are at risk from exposure to these chemicals which contaminate the water, soil and air around these facilities.
The manufacture and incineration of PVC also creates and releases dioxins, which cause a wide range of health effects including cancer, birth defects, diabetes, learning and developmental delays, endometriosis, and immune system abnormalities.” Source

Other Important Info

🎄Keep in mind that Christmas lights, both pre-installed on trees and purchased separately have a PVC casing around the wires which contains lead.
I called IKEA to ask about the lights they sell and was told that their products do not contain lead due to their European Standards.

🎄When decorating an artificial tree I would recommend using disposable nitrile or natural latex gloves, this is especially important if you are pregnant, nursing, have a compromised immune system, have MCAS or TILT/MCS, or if your children are helping you decorate the tree.

🎄Using a HEPA filter with specialized VOC filters can also be a helpful option as it will pick up any lead dust in the air and other VOC’s like formaldehyde.

🎄Mopping/wiping around the tree once or twice a day with a damp disposable microfiber clothe will also ensure the floor is kept clean and toxic dust particles are eliminated. Do not sweep and this will only make particles go airborne.

🎄It is important to monitor little ones so they do not place tree branches, ornaments, or Christmas lights in their mouth. It is equally important that they avoid touching the tree altogether as lead, phthalates, and other toxic chemicals are easily absorbed into the bloodstream where they can lodge in tissues and fat cells.

So, how do you plan to keep your family safe from Christmas tree chemicals this year? Will you be putting up a tree? Do you use chemical-free decorations in your home? Share your comments below.

Here’s to a safe and healthy Winter Season!
With love,

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