Will Your Vintage Lights Kill You?
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Author:  paulrace [ Sat Nov 27, 2021 1:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Will Your Vintage Lights Kill You?

A reader writes:

I have a question regarding a very old string of Christmas lights I recently inherited. I have heard that some old lights may contain asbestos. Do you have any idea if that is true, and how I might know if my lights contain it? I did not see that mentioned on your site in regards to lights and I am having a lot of trouble finding such information anywhere else on the internet (only that lights "may" contain asbestos). Thank you for your time.


Maybe one in a million light strands had asbestos involved in their manufacturing. If your set or your bulbs seem "frosted" and they were made before, say, 1970, they might seem suspect.

Otherwise the risk involves contamination from other sources, such as storage in a box with fake (asbestos) snow or with ornaments that are coated in asbestos-infused paint.

Did you see any evidence of either when you pulled out the light strand? Because the laws about asbestos are so rigid and broad, I could be breaking the law if I told you that you would almost certainly be safe if you went outside, wiped the cord and sockets down with a damp rag and threw the rag away. So you didn't hear that from me.

But I know a lot of folks who collect and display vintage Christmas decorations that the author claims should be placed in the (expensive) hands of asbestos abatement services just in case. And I don't know anyone who has had health problems as a result. If the risk was as great as the article claims, the "Golden Glow of Christmas Past" club wouldn't have any members to speak of. https://www.facebook.com/TheGoldenGlow/

Hope this helps,


The reader responds:


I really do thank you for your time. These lights I have are probably safe!

By the way, your website was truly a delight to peruse.

Author:  paulrace [ Sat Nov 27, 2021 1:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Will Your Vintage Lights Kill You?

Here's a note I published on FB as a result of seeing the reader's message.

Will your vintage Christmas decorations kill you?

The Asbestos Institute, which makes their money training asbestos abatement/removal professionals, published an article in 2020 claiming that they probably will. Countless other sites have plagiarized the article, so you may see it in one form or another.

I learned about this when a reader who inherited a simple vintage light strand wrote me in a panic.

According to the article, even products that were not made using asbestos are "probably" contaminated, since they were "most likely" stored with products that did use asbestos. Or in an attic with blown-in insulation that contains asbestos.

In their point of view, if you have ANY Christmas decorations that were made before, say 1970, or EVER stored in an attic with blown-in insulation, you should assume they're contaminated and call an asbestos abatement/removal professional to have them professionally disposed of at your expense. (Just bagging them up and sending them to a landfill would technically be illegal.)

True, the fake asbestos snow that was popular mid-century is VERY dangerous. And decorations that were frosted with asbestos-infused paint (to give a "frosty" texture) are dangerous if they chip or flex. So you should take precautions with anything that seems to contain asbestos, or anything that shows signs of being stored with or contaminated with such items.

But the notion of paying professionals to dispose of ANYTHING over 50 years old "just in case" seems a little like the nice folks at the Asbestos Institute may be "drumming up business."

Despite the hundreds of thousands of people who display vintage Christmas decorations year after year with no apparent ill effect, asbestos regulations are so strict and broad that I could be held criminally liable if I said that any lights or decorations that don't show any signs of asbestos or asbestos contamination would probably be perfectly safe if you just take them outside and cleaned them with a damp rag that you subsequently throw away. So I won't say that.

That's not saying that all vintage Christmas decorations are safe to use. Here's an article I wrote some years ago on the topic of Christmas decorations I grew up with that I'd never allow in my home today. https://familychristmasonline.com/trees ... ations.htm

Author:  paulrace [ Sat Nov 27, 2021 1:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Will Your Vintage Lights Kill You?

After I posted the above, I did a little more research and came across this:

Just realized that the Asbestos Institute copied most of the article from a UK legal firm that makes its income suing on behalf of people who claim to have been hurt by asbestos. I will let you know if I ever discover who THEY copied it from.

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