RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The gingerbread man of old folklore fame was sort of obnoxious, but the one hanging on your Christmas tree could be downright dangerous. A new study published in the journal Ground Water Monitoring & Remediation found that little plastic gingerbread men and other ornaments like it were releasing extremely high levels of a harmful industrial chemical from the boxes in which they were stored.
THE DETAILS: The researchers stumbled onto their discovery while researching groundwater contaminants near an Air Force base outside Salt Lake City, says lead author William Doucette, PhD, environmental chemist and professor at Utah State University. The Hill Air Force Base had been monitoring the indoor air of homes around a former aircraft-maintenance facility with local groundwater that was contaminated with the solvent 1,2-dichlorethane (DCA), which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)considers a possible human carcinogen. Despite remediation efforts by the Air Force, some homes in the area still had detectable levels of 1,2-DCA, and tests revealed that some homes that weren't situated near contaminated groundwater had high levels, as well. The house with the highest levels was investigated further, and after a bit of trial and error, the investigators pinpointed the source of contamination as a plastic container housing Christmas ornaments. The container was emitting an astonishing 290 micrograms per cubic meter of the chemical (levels in the rest of the house ranged from 0.41 to 12 micrograms per cubic meter). They removed the ornaments and tested each one individually to reveal that a "polyresin" plastic Christmas ornament in the shape of a gingerbread man was the culprit. The researchers then went to a nearby dollar store to find ornaments similar in appearance and material, and those too were found to contain high levels of 1,2-DCA.