EcoWaste Coalition Cautions Consumers against Toxic Christmas Lights

Pretty Christmas lights adorning homes, malls, streets and  places of work and worship during the festive season may be harboring dangerous chemicals that can make people ill.

The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental watchdog, made this observation after analyzing 20 sets of imported holiday light strands and finding 16 of them exceeding the limit for lead in electrical and electronic products in the European Union (EU).

The 16 samples had lead levels between 2,689 parts per million (ppm) to 32,500 ppm, way above the limit of 1,000 ppm under the EU Directive on Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS).

“We are worried that cheap, lead-containing imported holiday lights that could not enter the EU market are being dumped here,” stated Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“It’s obvious that manufacturers of poor quality lighting chains and other electrical and electronic products are profiting from our lack of a RoHS-like policy at the expense of our people’s health and safety,” Dizon noted.  

RoHS restricts the use of six hazardous materials in electrical and electronic products such as cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead and mercury, which are heavy metals, and polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which are flame retardant chemicals.

RoHS compliance is important as “the restricted materials are hazardous to the environment and pollute landfills, and are dangerous in terms of occupational exposure during manufacturing and recycling,” according to the RoHS Guide.

In test buys conducted on October 25-27, the EcoWaste Coalition obtained 20 different types of holiday lights that bargain retailers in Divisoria, Manila City and Monumento, Caloocan City sell for P50 to P220 per set. 

None of the 20 samples had complete product, chemical, energy and safety labeling information, and many did not bear the required Import Commodity Compliance Certificate (ICC) holographic sticker for imported lights or the Philippine Standard mark for locally manufactured lights.

The EcoWaste Coalition has notified the Department of Trade and Industry through the Bureau of Trade and Consumer Protection about its findings and specifically sought assistance in validating the authenticity of the ICC stickers in some of the samples.

A handheld  X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer used by the EcoWaste Coalition to identify and quantify toxic metals in the samples found high amounts of lead mostly in the vinyl-coated electrical wirings and, in some cases, in the plugs and switches.

Portable RoHS analyzers similar to the EcoWaste Coalition’s XRF device are used for screening and verification of RoHS compliance.
The 10 samples with the highest lead levels include:

1.  A “Decor Lights” with green wire and red, yellow and green LED bulbs and angel-like hanging ornaments on a rectangular brown and yellow box had  32,500 PPM

2.  A “Seven Star” Christmas lights with black wire and white bulbs on a blue box with image of Snowman had 9,830 ppm of lead.
3.  A “Merry Lights” with green wire and bulbs on a plastic bag had 8,664 ppm of lead.

4.  A “J.F.” Christmas lights with green wire and red bulbs on a plastic bag had 7,677 ppm of lead.

5.  A lighting chains of big blue, green, red and yellow stars with white wire on a plastic bag had 6,735 ppm of lead.
6.  An unlabeled Christmas lights with green wire and orange bulbs on a white box marked “UL Listed” had 5,782 ppm

7.  A “Multi Function” rice lights with clear wire on a blue box with image of a Christmas tree had 4,751 ppm of lead.     
8.  A “Millennium Lights” with green wire and red bulbs on a plastic bag had 4,744 ppm

9.  A “JF Star” Christmas lights with green wire and clear bulbs on a plastic bag had 4,621 ppm of lead.

10.  A “Mabuhay Star” Christmas lights by Wan Da Xin Trading International, Inc. with green wire and clear bulbs on a plastic bag had 4,187 ppm of lead.
Consumers need to be very cautious when buying holiday lighting chains as sub-standard Christmas lights pose a risk of burns, electric shock, fire and chemical exposure, the EcoWaste Coalition warned.

Broken or spent Christmas lights loaded with toxic chemicals further contribute to the growing volume of hazardous discards that are often mixed with regular trash, dumped, burned or improperly recycled, exposing waste collectors and recyclers and communities to a cocktail of toxic pollutants.