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Published On: Wed, Oct 29th, 2014

Detoxifying the Holidays: food safety, environmental issues with Christmas trees

The holiday season is fast approaching and soon families will discuss dinner menus, choose a tree and send out Christmas cards. With merriment and tradition in the thoughts of many excitedly planning festivities, consider for a moment ways of keeping loved ones and the environment safer. In recent years, researchers have discovered that some traditions that people never give a second thought, may indeed pose a variety of risks.

photo I, Briho

photo I, Briho

Hazards of Holiday Goodies
From popular snacks to a barrage of sweet treats, various manufacturers begin creating foods boasting holiday colors. Candies, chips and cookies are baked and formed with green and red coloration. The chemicals used to devise the artificial hues, which often include Red #40, may be made using toxic coal tars. Popular meat and cheese snack trays are also suspect, as the processed meats typically contain sodium nitrite, which is used to make products appear red by preserving and enhancing color.

According to scientific studies, consuming these compounds may produce an array of undesired effects that include hyperactivity. The problem begins when compounds combine with many other common ingredients that include sugar and wheat. Adults and children alike may experience hyperactivity, moodiness or become unusually emotional. These are symptoms commonly associated with someone diagnosed with ADHD. Be aware that sodium nitrite has been linked with increasing the risk of cancer development. Researchers warn that consumers should check food labels and avoid buying products with artificial coloring or other chemicals.

Artificial vs. Real
On average, surveys indicate that American families buy more than 21 million real evergreen trees during the holiday season every year. Conversely, almost 13 million opt for artificial versions of the familiar Christmas decoration. Many environmentally conscious people believe that by using an artificial Christmas tree, they are actually helping the planet by saving natural trees and forests. However, biologists from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, advise that buying a fresh tree every year for ten years has less of an impact on the planet than using an artificial tree for the same length of time.

A household would have to use the same artificial tree for two decades before the carbon footprint becomes less than buying a real tree every year. The reasoning behind this theory involves the fact that most of the trees are manufactured using polyvinyl chloride and originate in China. This form of plastic requires petrochemicals and fossil-fuel intensive processes. The material is also known to release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into the air, which may contribute to respiratory problems that include allergies. Shipping the items around the world also requires using natural resources, expanding the carbon footprint.

Some may be reluctant to use real trees for fear of allergy symptoms secondary to mold, pollen or the scent of the tree itself that many prefer. However, testing shows that trees do not increase the likelihood of mold spores, nor produce pollen. If the natural pine scent is a problem, choose pine rather than fir species, as the odor produced by these trees is significantly less.

Author: Lolita Di

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