By Aaron Short
Over the past week, several state agencies have begun responding to questions concerning a warning from the state of California about the dangers of lead exposure printed on the back of boxes of Christmas lights sold in stores throughout New York City. “There was one station that brought to our attention that there is lead in Christmas tree lights,” said Deb Rausch, a spokeswoman from the New York State Consumer Protection Board. “We did take a look at it and while we don’t have anything definitive about it, our standard warning is that you should read the fine print on the boxes. Sometimes there is lead in items because there has to be. If you are handling a product that contains lead, wash your hands carefully and be careful.” The Proposition 65 warning comes on the wake of the widespread toy recall that has affected toy manufactures and retailers this past holiday season. “The key is to not be using lead paint,” said Micah Kellner, a State Assemblyman in Manhattan and member of the Consumer Protection Committee. “The industry needs to look at other materials used in the plastic that do not have lead content.” Assemblymember Hakim Jeffries introduced a bill this past month in the State Legislature’s Consumer Protection Committee that would impose a criminal liability on a wholesale or retail distributor who continues to knowingly sell hazardous toys up until thirty days after the recall. The Committee will take up the bill in the new session in January. “It certainly raises tremendous concern,” said Jeffries. “With the toy industry, we’re addressing the concern in lead exposure in toys, but we need to take a comprehensive look at other consumer products such as Christmas lights which possess a similar danger of exposure to lead poisoning. The toy recall accountability act was the first step to address the potential hazards of dangerous consumer products but there’s a lot that the government must do related to the entire industry.” The label states: Handling the coated electrical wires of the product exposes you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive harm. Lead poising can cause brain damage, hearing loss, and severe headaches among other ailments. “I’ll probably take a close look at what kind of legislative remedies might be able to address the Christmas light issue,” said Jeffries. “Either the Department of Health or the New York Consumer Protection Board needs to intervene and do testing to help determine the proper legislative action.” Officials from the Department of Health said that they had not conducted testing on Christmas light wires and other products with the warning label and that it was the role of the Consumer Protection Board to do so. “With all things that contain lead, and there are a lot of products, the most important thing is exposure,” said Claire Pospisil, a DOH spokesperson. “Lead is more of a concern for younger children.” A manager of a True Value in Brooklyn explained the nature of the warning labels and the effects that the state regulations have had on products sold in his store. “New York State has one of the highest VOC, Volatility of Organic Compounds standards in the nation,” said the manager, who declined to give his name. “We had to send back our paints, wood stains, polyurethanes, and glues if they didn’t comply with VOC standards or were made before a certain date. If we buy a product, it’s more cost efficient to do a quality check and go to the manufacturer in China to make sure they adhere to safety standards than pay a lawsuit.” Deb Rausch from the Consumer Protection Board offered more advice for customers hanging or taking down Christmas lights during the holidays. “Don’t put your hands or fingers in your mouth and if you have your children putting up Christmas lights, make sure they wash their hands,” she Rausch. “Hanging lights low on the Christmas tree or other areas might be dangerous for pets if they try to ingest the wires. It’s better to err on the side of where pets or kids can’t reach these items.” For more information about Christmas lights, visit www.nysconsumer.gov or call the Consumer Protection hotline at 800-697-1220.