Bubble Lights - The Hazards of Nostalgia

Decorating our homes for the holidays is a much-loved ritual. Often, we retrieve heirloom pieces passed down through the generations to remind us of our traditions at this time of year. It’s important to remember, however, that safety standards have changed vastly over the past century. Some of our familiar holiday mementos could actually be dangerous. Since the advent of electric lights, few people place lighted candles on Christmas trees, a common practice in prior centuries. However, some people might be tempted to pull out those old bubble lights that were popular in the 1950s. Their candle shape, liquid movement under the glass, and bright colors make them attractive and appealing, especially to young children, but underneath their joyful appearance lurks a hidden hazard. The fluid inside old or new bubble lights most frequently is methylene chloride — a compound that can cause serious poisoning if it’s inhaled, swallowed, or spilled on the skin. In the body, methylene chloride is converted to carbon monoxide. The symptoms are the same as those of carbon monoxide poisoning: nausea, vomiting, headache, drowsiness, coma, seizures, heart attack, and even death. Many of these antique decorations have become fragile with age and can break quite easily. Fortunately, the amount of fluid in a single bulb is small and usually not enough to cause serious poisoning. However, it’s important for parents to remain vigilant and discourage children from playing with these lights.