Lead at Christmas and on New Year's Eve

red candle with a spoon for lead pouringClick to enlarge
Lead tinsel and lead pouring are harmful to health
Source: beetle / Fotolia.com

Lead tinsel is no longer in fashion, and that's a good thing, because lead is known to be an environmental toxin. The presence of lead can be recognised by the product’s greater weight and the designation “Stanniol”. From the fact that there are still a few sources from which lead-based tinsel can be bought we conclude that some diehard fans still prefer these ornaments for nostalgic reasons.

Lead-based tinsel used to be more fashionable

And yet, this nostalgia has its price because, although the beautiful cascades of tinsel may in the first instance serve as lovely tree decorations, the glittery strips end up with the Christmas trees in composting or incineration plants. In this way toxic lead spreads throughout the environment and can find its way into the human organism through the air or be ingested with food. Lead is especially dangerous for children because it affects the development of intelligence.

The Federal Environment Agency advises consumers to refrain from using lead tinsel. Nostalgic Christmas tree decorations made of straw or wood can make a Christmas tree just as beautiful. If tinsel really is necessary, there are alternatives made of plastic or aluminium. Existing residual stocks of lead-based tinsel must be disposed of as special waste.

Is lead pouring necessary year on year?

A glance at the pre-Christmas expenditure at home improvement stores suggests that the tradition of lead pouring on New Year's Eve is still widespread. However, pouring lead as a means of divining the future is really not a good idea, as lead is poisonous and an environmental pollutant. It is not without reason that there are limit and guideline values for drinking water, soil, air and food which are intended to reduce the spread of lead in the environment and human exposure to this toxic metal. The Federal Environment Agency recommends that consumers refrain from lead pouring.

During lead pouring - more specifically, when lead is heated – lead oxides arise which evaporate in the indoor environment. Bystanders can absorb these fumes by breathing them in. Touching the figures also leaves traces of lead on the hands. Children who then put their hands in their mouths may also be putting lead there. As far as the effects of lead are concerned, children must be considered a particular risk group, as even small quantities may affect the development of intelligence.

Lead can also be spread in the environment via lead residues and all the objects that come into direct contact with lead if it is disposed of along with household waste. These things must be disposed of as hazardous waste.

Divining the future on New Year’s Eve is traditional for some families who are reluctant to do away with the practice. But lead bodes ill for the future - for both human health and the environment. A good alternative to lead is wax. The figures that result from pouring it out do not take on the same rich array of shapes as lead, which means that creative imagination is all the more important.