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Detoxing Your Holiday Greenery

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Detoxing Your Holiday Greenery

As we hunker down inside for the shorter, colder days of winter, we often choose to bring nature in with us.

And so we might brave the wilds to bring home a lush Christmas tree, then deck it with ornaments and lights, to provide a spot to gather our gifts wrapped with care. Or perhaps we scatter poinsettia pots to bestow their Christmas red and green brightness wherever they might land.

Yet how often are we unknowingly bringing toxic pesticides in with our holiday cheer? After all, these plants are agricultural crops, and insecti- cides and herbicides are the norm in that domain.

I found this out the hard way many years ago, when a beau gave me a fabulous bouquet of flowers. Suddenly I started having debilitat- ing headaches, and only found relief when I made the connection and banished the flowers to the deck, to be viewed only through a foggy window pane.

Since then, I’ve discovered that flowers and plants are allowed to have notably higher levels of toxics than food, because they aren’t con- sumed. But do we really want these toxics sitting in our homes?

Choosing a Christmas tree

Each year, folks in the U.S. buy 25 to 30 million of this holiday staple. Tree farms can use various pesticides on and around their trees, including neurotoxic insecticides to kill aphids, herbicides to control weeds, and fun- gicides to knock back fungus.

Many of these pesticides have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, neurotoxicity, organ damage, reproductive/birth defects, asthma, and more, according to the nonprofit group Beyond Pesticides. These toxics potentially cause harm to workers and the environment. Plus they can include pesticides not al- lowed to be used inside our homes.

So how much of this is on the tree when we get it? We just don’t know. According to Hannah Wallace in her 2014 article, “Seasons Greening,” no studies have been done to see if Christmas trees still have pesticides on them at harvest.

But what if we simply want to skip the toxics with our Christmas tree, both at the farm and in our  houses?

There are many options out there, so follow these key principles.

1) Buy organic. This is the best choice, because of organic’s third-party certification. But the organic tree industry is just a sapling, with only 1% of U.S. holiday trees organic. Still, supporting this when possible encourages more to develop.

2) Buy “no pesticide.” A second choice is to buy trees that a vendor says are grown without any   toxic pesticides. Note that, without cer- tification, it’s up to you to evaluate if they’re being truthful. Ask them about both the trees they grow and any cut ones they bring in. Even local tree farms sometimes include pre-cut imported trees (from Oregon, most likely) among their wares.

3) Explore locally grown options.

Toward a Healthier Future is a Bi-monthly Newsletter of the Sebastopol Toxics Education Program. Look beyond Christmas tree lots to small local farms. That makes it easier for you to ask the grower about their practices. Plus they won’t need to use pesticides for shipping or a large industrial operation.