This email is the seventh in a series of twelve for child care providers in New York State that Clean and Healthy New York trained on EcoHealthy Child Care® and toxic chemical reduction and elimination strategies. We hope you find them helpful and they inspire you to take further steps to reduce the hidden toxic chemicals in your setting.  Please share with your children's families!

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What's the problem?

Holiday decorations can contain harmful chemicals:

  • Lead is used a number of PVC plastic (vinyl) in the coatings of wires, including for holiday lights (1). Lead is also found in PVC plastic artificial trees, in older painted ornaments, and can be found in some wrapping paper. (1, 2)

  • Bubble lights contain methylene chloride. If the bubble light breaks, children could be exposed. Short-term harm includes breathing problems. Chronic exposure can contribute to cancer.(2, 3)

  • Fireplace color crystals are unlikely to be present in a child care setting, but be aware that they are made with heavy metal salts, including arsenic, antimony, copper and selenium. They can look like candy, and ingestion can cause burns and may cause heavy metal poisoning. (2)

  • Snow spray contain acetone or methylene chloride, and can be harmful if inhaled. Short term effects can include nausea, lightheadedness, and headache. (2)

  • Decorations may contain heavy metals. Last season, tested a variety of items and found plastic garlands, artificial wreaths, lighted garlands and strings of plastic beads containing antimony, lead, tin, as well as indications of brominated or chlorinated flame retardants. (4)

  • Scented candles can emit soot, may have wicks containing lead, and the scent may trigger respiratory problems for some people.

Keeping the holiday season "green," merry, and bright:

  • Use the same criteria you use for daily cleaning and decorating for the holiday season.

  • Don't let children handle strings of lights. Dust frequently to remove lead that can fall from the lights.

  • Avoid artificial trees, especially those made of PVC or vinyl, and if you set them up, place them out of reach of children, and again, dust frequently.

  • Cut out snowflakes from folded paper to decorate windows instead of applying spray snow. Once the spray snow has dried, it is not harmful, but use of it can affect the person applying it. In this case, it's about worker health and safety.

  • Skip the bubble lights, artificial scents, candles, and fireplace color crystals. None are needed to create a cheerful atmosphere

  • Don't allow children and babies to chew on wrapping paper.

Learn more

Mt. Sinai School of Medicine operates the Children's Environmental Health Center of Excellence, conducting research into environmental causes of childhood disease. They also provide free consultation for parents who have questions about pediatric environmental exposures. To contact the Mount Sinai Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), please call 1-866-265-6201 or e-mail

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Look for our next set of tips coming soon.

Going "Green" for the Holidays: 
How to avoid harmful chemicals



(2) "Hazardous Holiday Decorations Warning from California Poison Control"

(3) EPA Factsheet on Methylene Chloride

(4) "Ghosts of Christmas Past" from


NYSP2I is dedicated to helping NYS residents and businesses find implementable and cost-effective sustainability solutions.

Funding provided by the Environmental Protection Fund as administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NYS Pollution Prevention Institute or Department of Environmental Conservation.

Going "Green" for the Holidays: 
How to avoid harmful chemicals

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