The Intersection of Christmas Trees, Sustainability, and Asthma

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December finds the real vs. live tree debate on all the eco-aware websites, and articles about Christmas trees and mold triggers on all the asthma ones.

This year, I’m combining the two subjects and including information from my post last year.


The basics:

– Live trees bring mold indoors.

– But artificial trees are made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC.

– If you don’t know much about PVC yet, here’s the deal: It’s not biodegradable, and you can’t recycle it because recycling involves burning. When PVC burns, it emits dioxins and other cancerous substances. Oh, and dioxin is a by-product of the PVC manufacturing process, too. (Nice, huh?)

– Also, the manufacture of many PVC products incorporates lead, another nasty substance.

– Also, fake trees don’t smell like Christmas.

– Live trees smell beautiful and don’t involve PVC, but large Christmas tree farms are generally heavy on the pesticide applications.

– Plus, growing an entire tree for the sole purpose of cutting it down isn’t winning any sustainability awards, either.

Now, I don’t like using or purchasing items guaranteed not to trigger my kid (like artificial trees) if the production of those items is just going to spew more irritants into the air and bother her asthma eventually, anyway. I won’t even get into the effect of PVC production on soil and the water supply. At the same time, while AG doesn’t have a mold allergy now, her asthma has changed so many times over the years that I try to keep all allergens and airborne irritants to a minimum, just to be safe.

The question is, where do asthma safety and environmental sustainability intersect?

Here’s my take:

– Live trees, especially from small local and/or organic growers are better than artificial ones but only if your lungs can tolerate them.

– But a live tree should be sprayed off first and should air-dry before it comes inside the house.

– Asthma patients whose lungs just can’t handle a live tree but who don’t want to buy an environmentally damaging artificial tree, either, could consider some of the alternative eco-options floating around on the Internet. These include everything from decorating an outside tree or searching for a retro aluminum one.

– But it would be hard to give up the Christmas tree tradition in the U.S., and I’m just not a fan of those shiny silver aluminum trees.

– If live trees triggered my daughter’s asthma, I think I’d go with a used artificial tree instead. That way, I’m not endangering her health but I’m not contributing to a highly polluted industry, either.

If you’re new to this blog and missed my post last year or didn’t click on the link to it up top, you may be asking yourself,

Ah, but she’s written about what tree she would have if her daughter had a mold allergy. What kind of tree does she actually have?

I’ll come clean.

It’s an artificial one, bought 6 years ago before I started to advocate for permaculture and sustainability. And as I wrote in my post last year, it’s the last fake tree I’ll buy.

48 responses to “The Intersection of Christmas Trees, Sustainability, and Asthma”

  1. GeorgeandWheezie says:

    Oh jeez. I too have an artificial tree and have had live trees in the past. I wonder how bad the mold problem is in higher and drier altitudes and climates. For example, someone who lives in Florida has a lot more mold worries with all the humidity in the air than say, some one in Tempe, Arizona. And then, what about places like Mile High Denver, CO where the humidity and oxygen are both low. Is mold really a problem there?

    I guess even if you mitigate the mold issues, it doesn’t solve the sustainability issues huh?

  2. Asthmagirl says:

    It’s not just mold. I don’t have a mold trigger, but I’ve had Christmas trees that made me tight for days… I couldn’t even get close enough to decorate. Then there’s this year’s tree that so completely non toxic to my lungs. I think they’re sprayed with a preservative at times.
    Plus we recycle our tree every year, so at least it ends up as a product of sorts…

  3. Noelle says:

    Growing up, we always had a real tree. And I continued the tradition when I moved to the Christmas Tree farm. But in those past two years, I noticed that when I got near the tree, I would start to sneeze and get watery eyes, and I deduced that I was allergic. And since the farm I lived on was no longer in operation, the tree I got hadn’t been sprayed in over three years.

    So that’s why I went artificial this year. I think the best we can do is hold on to those artificial trees for as long as humanly possible. Also, there’s the option of getting a small tree with a root ball and trying to plant it after the season. I did that when I lived in NYC, but when I tried to plant it at my parents’ NJ home, the ground was too frozen in January to let the tree grow. If you live in a warmer climate, that’s an option, though.

  4. Michelle says:

    We always have a live tree. I don’t feel guilty at all and I am in the business of environmental regulation. A tree farm is not a blight to the environment unless it is run by a real whacko. It is true that Christmas trees tend to get “cared for” a bit more than one that would be growing for lumber. However, in my experience, orange groves (trees only cut when they die or stop producing), livestock farms (organic or not) and many other agricultural operations are much more damaging to the surrounding natural resource areas than a tree farm.

    On the issue of mold – my son’s triggers are dust and mold (both could come from a live tree), but we’ve never had any problems because of the live tree. If he did, we would certainly consider a fake one.

  5. We have a fake one, we tried a live one once and it was a disaster, not just for Alorah and Vance but also because it dried up super fast and let off a ton of pollen, not a good thing. We bought the fake and have never noticed an increase of symptoms with it. I never thought I would like a fake, but I figure if we take care of it then we won’t have to replace it, and we bought a very good quality one at that. For Alorah dust is a trigger and the tree does get awfully dusty but we don’t mess with it AT ALL until the day after Christmas. Then we send her out somewhere while we take it down and box it up, vacuum, and clean the area it was in. That method seems to work well. Really, with the whole tree thing it seems that no matter what you ‘could’ loose. Alorah’s asthma has also changed so you never know.

  6. I have severe asthma and two of the medicine the FDA wants to ban is on the list. I am asking that anyone that has or has known someone with a lung disorder please contact the FDA and let them know that all Americans with any disorder or disease be allowed to continue living life best they can with the current medicines available and not to ban them. Banning even one of the medicines I take can reduce my daily life by as much as 50%

    http://www.fda.gov/comments.html

  7. Alyson says:

    Fake Tree. I bought it this year and I have NEVER been happier. I labored over the PVC/environmental issues for years while I would suffer through everyday my real tree was in my house. The tree could be in my home for 7-10 days and each night I hid in my room with all air purifiers going. Oh and my car was tainted by driving tree home. This year the beautiful fake tree went up on Thanksgiving in 15 minutes and can stay as long as I like. The kids are thrilled, husband is thrilled, and I am healthy and full of energy instead of lethargic and fighting my asthma, I can even sing Christmas carols. Just do it if you need to.

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