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 and one I observe from the end of summer. After all, Jesus wasn’t born in December, so I can celebrate his birth way before Christmas comes around, lol. 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 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.”
Why Did I Write This Post?
I wanted to write this post because I love everything surrounding the Christmas season, and I love people. Coming together to celebrate and remember the birth of Jesus is such a special time. Sadly, over the years, as the world has become more dependent on synthetic products and chemicals, we’ve opened the door to many toxic products in our homes. As each year passes, more and more fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, and sisters are being hurt by chemicals in our environment and the products we bring into our homes.
Christmastime can become a holiday with way too many chemical exposures from toys, candles, decorations, and moldy Christmas trees. Although the average person may not be adversely affected immediately by these toxins, people who have been injured by chemicals or those healing from MCAS, Mold Illness, and other conditions may be extra sensitive to them. I wrote this post for everyone, but it is especially written for my friends suffering from chemical sensitivities. As usual, my heart in sharing this information is to educate and empower you so that you can choose what is best for you and your family.
Below, I will focus on some essential facts regarding Christmas trees, both real and artificial. I’ll also share a few additional lighting tips and how to minimize exposure to flame retardants and lead.
The Christmas Tree Dilemma – Artificial Or Real
If you ask people their opinion on what type of tree is best, you’ll find two prominent arguments.
1. Real trees look better, smell better, and are less toxic than artificial trees.
2. Artificial trees are safer and more sustainable since they can be used year after year.
I’ll say yes and no to both of these arguments. The truth is that no tree will be 100% toxin-free; they don’t exist, and the sustainability argument with artificial trees is only partially accurate. Artificial trees are made from PVC plastic, which contains toxic chemicals. Additionally, most artificial trees are treated with flame retardants, an industry standard for Christmas lights and home décor.
Real trees are 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 mast cell 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 and least toxic option for you and your family.
Real Christmas 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, especially if they are being delivered to humid climates. 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. *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.
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.
For information on each chemical copy the name and type it into the search bar of this link, and this link.
🎄 “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 purchase a real Christmas tree from a standard tree lot, where the trees have already been cut down, you could try standing your tree outdoors and washing it once or twice in a fragrance-free dish soap. On a warn and sunny day, use a hose, rinse well, and let the tree dry completely before placing it indoors. Using a clean leaf blower on the lowest setting to dry out the branches before bringing the tree inside is very helpful. Rinsing your tree may help eliminate some of the remaining pesticides. If you’re sensitive to chemical exposures or have MCAS, be sure to use gloves, cover your skin, and protect your eyes with goggles. You could also opt for a potted Christmas tree and rinse it before bringing it indoors.
Where to Purchase Organically Grown or Pesticide Free Trees
If you want to purchase an organically and or sustainably grown Christmas trees, below are two farms where you can order from online.
Silver Tip Tree Farm – Christmas trees are organically grown, with no pesticides used. They ship them anywhere in the USA.
Christmas Trees Now – They practice sustainable agriculture and are committed to growing natural products. When I reached out by phone they mentioned that they don’t spray any pesticides or herbicides on their trees.
For a list of organically grown and or pesticide free Christmas tree farms in your area check out Local Harvest by clicking here. Please note that some of these trees may still contain chemicals used for pests but they are naturally derived, so be sure to ask each farmer any questions you may have about their trees before ordering.
What If I cant Purchase an Organic Tree?
Don’t fret, my friend. If you’re purchasing a non organic tree and having it cut down on-site, here are a few tips for those living in warmer climates.
1. Select your tree on a day that is sunny and warm.
2. Have it tagged so others know that it’s your tree.
3. Ask the farm if they can hose it down for you before cutting it down to help wash away some of the pesticide residue. Offer to help them do this or ask them to allow you to wash your tree with your family.
4. Pick up your tree after it’s been washed down and has had time to dry.
Artificial Christmas Trees
🎄 One of the worst types of plastic on the market is PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which is used to make the majority of artificial Christmas trees. Trees made with PE (polyethylene) or a combination or PE and PP (polypropylene) may be a safer option when compared to PVC. “PVC contains dangerous chemical additives including phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins, which can be toxic to your child’s health. These toxic additives can leach out or evaporate into the air over time, posing unnecessary dangers to children.” Source
🎄 “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
🎄 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.
🎄 Watch out for flame retardants. Back in 2017 I began calling and emailing companies to ask about flame retardants in Christmas trees. I found out that every single artificial tree I was looking at online, contained 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
Where to Purchase Less Toxic Artificial Trees
In 2017, when I published my original article on Christmas trees, I visited IKEA in person and called their central office to ask about their artificial trees. At the time, I was told that none of the trees that IKEA sells are made from PVC, minimizing our exposure to lead and phthalates. I’ve followed up with Ikea several times over the last four years, and from what I’m told, they still do not sell artificial trees made from PVC. They use a blend of PE, PP, and PET. Their trees also contain metal in some parts. I’ve also asked IKEA about their use of flame retardants and was told that their home décor plants and Christmas trees do NOT contain flame retardants. You can read more about IKEA and their position on flame retardants here. In my opinion, IKEA Christmas trees are the way to go for those who are on a budget and want a less toxic tree for their home.
Balsam Hill offers a few artificial Christmas trees that contain mainly PE and a small amount of PVC, and they have other trees that contain a blend of PE and PVC. I recommend contacting them to ask detailed questions about the tree you are interested in purchasing. When I called them, I was told that their “Most Realistic Trees” are the ones that are mainly PE. *They don’t sell any trees free from flame retardants, so this is a pick-your-poison kind of situation. In my opinion, IKEA is the best choice for avoiding both flame retardants and PVC.
Tips for Reducing Exposure to Toxins used in Artificial Trees
🎄 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 and damp 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 or dry wipe as this will only make particles go airborne.
🎄 After mopping or damp wiping, vacuuming with an ULPA vacuum will help capture any ultra fine particles left behind. This ULPA filtration vacuum can capture particles nearly 3X smaller than HEPA filtered vacuums. I recommend it to everyone especially to people with allergies and those who are chemically sensitive.
🎄 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.
What About Christmas Lights?
Christmas lights, both pre-installed on trees and those purchased separately can have a PVC casing around the wires which contains lead. Aside from lead Christmas lights can also have elevated levels of Antimony, Cadmium, Mercury, or Arsenic.
When I called IKEA in 2017 and in 2019 to ask about the lights they sell, I was told that their products did not contain lead due to their European Standards. However, I recommend that you ask them before purchasing to ensure that they still carry lead-free lights, and while you’re at it, ask them about Antimony, Cadmium, Mercury, and Arsenic in their lights.
If I have a free moment I’ll reach out to them again and come back to update this post.
Lastly, remember that no Christmas lighting option will be free from heavy metals and other toxins. We can, however, reduce our exposure to toxic substances by searching for Christmas lights that are free of Prop 65 warning labels and comply with RoHS regulations. With that in mind, use what works best for your family’s specific health needs and budget, and remember to use gloves while decorating and when taking lights down, especially if you’re using traditional lights.
For information on Christmas tree lights tested for lead, check out these posts by fellow blogger and lead-poisoning prevention advocate Tamara Rubin.
I hope this post is helpful to you. Now, tell me, will you be putting up a Christmas tree this year? Do you use lower-tox decorations in your home?
Share your comments below.
Here’s to a safe and healthy Holiday Season!