Christmas Hazards

Wait a minute… who is that over by the Christmas tree? It’s Tiny Tim chewing on a poinsettia. Mrs. Cratchit quickly snatched up Tiny Tim and ran to the phone to call the Central Texas Poison Control Center 800-222-1222.

The poison specialist on the phone reassured Mrs. Cratchit that poinsettias are minimally toxic and usually only cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The specialist recommended to give Tiny Tim some milk to drink and watch for nausea or vomiting. Mrs. Cratchit was much relieved, and an hour later called back to the Poison Control Center to say thank you and ask about some other Christmas toxins that Tiny Tim might get into over the holiday season. The specialist went on to list some of the most common things people can get into during the holidays.

Pine Tree (all species)

Christmas trees are non-toxic and usually harmless in regard to toxic exposure concerns. They can scratch the throat if ingested.

Christmas Tree Preservative

Usually contain sugar 90-95%, some form of citric acid, alum and maybe some other trace elements. Drinking the water that contains the preservative is considered usually non-toxic unless ingested in large quantities.

Christmas Tree Ornaments

Most ornaments are made of plastic, glass, styrofoam, wood and metal. These are considered non-toxic but may present a physical hazard if broken. Other ornaments that are not toxic but can cause mechanical injury are angel hair, glitter, icicles and tinsel. These small things can be inhaled, ingested, placed in the eye or on the skin and can cause irritation.

Christmas Globes

These are also known as snow globes. Some contain little pieces of plastic or glitter but are not considered toxic. The water in these globes is not toxic but may be contaminated with bacteria. If one of these gets broken it is advisable to throw it away.

Bubbling Christmas Lights

These fluid-filled bubbling lights contain at least 50% methylene chloride. Methylene chloride is a respiratory tract and mucous membrane irritant and can cause headaches. Dermal contact may cause irritation and burns. If ingested, methylene chloride can cause CNS depression (sleepiness) and respiratory failure (breathing problems).


Mistletoe is in the Phoradendron species. Ingestion of any part of the plants usually leads to gastroenteritis, but can also lead to hallucinations, hypotension or hypertension and seizures. The gastroenteritis can last up to eight hours. Fewer than two berries are probably not enough to cause toxicity but ingestion of an unknown amount may require evaluation by a physician.

Poinsettias & Holly

Neither plant is considered toxic. They can, in cases where someone has eaten a large quantity, be considered mildly toxic in that they can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and therefore are a possible risk for dehydration. Holly’s are from the Ilex genus and all plants in that genus causes nausea and vomiting if eaten in large enough amounts.


Once placed on the tree it is inert plastic. If ingested it is considered a foreign body ingestion.

Tinsel and Wrapping paper

On a rare occasion tinsel or wrapping paper may contain lead in some of the inks that are used. A small amount ingested should not be a problem but if unsure, then a lead level might be considered appropriate. Do not burn tinsel or wrapping paper.

Fireplace Logs

Metallic salts produce fireplace and log colors, which can be toxic if ingested, even in small amounts in some cases. Make sure the flu is open to avoid combustion vapors and carbon monoxide in the home.

Tiny Disc Batteries

Found in watches, toys, cameras and calculators, these can be easily swallowed by children. If ingestion is suspected a x-ray should be taken to establish the location of the battery. Most will pass in a day or two, but parents should check stools to confirm that the battery has passed.

Toy Safety

For toy safety information call the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (C.P.S.C.) at 800-638-CPSC


Leaving alcohol around for little children to drink by accident can be a fatal mistake. Ethanol in children can cause hypoglycemia (and subsequent convulsions) and if not recognized can be fatal.


Food poisoning is always a concern, especially during the holidays when foods get left out for office workers to graze on during the day. Safe food handling practices should be observed.

Some helpful hints on food preparation:

  • "When in Doubt, Throw It Out"
  • Butter Ball Hotline: 800-323-4848
  • USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline: 800-535-4555

A Holiday Safety Gift Package Idea

Put together a gift basket containing some of these safety items:

  • Smoke detectors and batteries
  • A quality fire extinguisher
  • A flashlight and batteries
  • A first aid kit
  • A carbon monoxide detector
  • A mobile phone
  • A second floor escape ladder
  • A poison prevention packet with the Poison Control Center phone and Mr. Yuk stickers

Don’t be a Scrooge this year, give someone you care about a Safety Basket.

Text Size