Ministry warns that most Christmas lighting is dangerous

Ministerio de Economia, Industría y Comercio photo
This set of wires carries the approval of the Underwriters
Laboratories, a safety organization that checks electrical
devices. But there is no guarantee that the tag is legitimate.

Analysts from the Ministerio de Economia, Industría y Comercio found that nearly nine out of 10 varieties of Christmas lights made for home use pose a risk of causing a fire.

According to a press release from the ministry, 17 out the 19
varieties that officials tested and analyzed failed to meet international standards, which makes them prone to short circuits.

These findings were part of the ministry’s annual Christmas survey that tracks the best and worst prices on toys and tamale ingredients as well as which stores are and are not following trade rules.

This is the first time that the ministry has given any attention to Christmas lights.

The survey is one of many similar projects that ministry officials complete each year in which they keep watch over the best prices and which stores are not following the rules on behalf of consumers.

The 19 types of Christmas lights that the analysts tested were purchased at 10 different stores including Ekono, Cemaco, Simán, El Rey, Walmart, Librería Universal, Pricemart, Aliss, Pequeño Mundo and El Sol Naciente.

That is reassuring!

A ministry spokesperson could neither specify which brands of Christmas lights are safe and which are not, nor where staffers purchased the safe lights. However, she said that the important thing is that safe lights will have a certification attached to them saying they have been tested in a laboratory.

With the 17 unsafe brands, the size of the wire did not meet international standards, which ministry analysts said makes these brands more likely to short circuit. They also found the extension plugs in these 17 brands were not adequately able to handle electrical surges.

Additionally, two extensions had extremely small conductor prongs making these brands even more susceptible to overheating, according to the ministry’s release.

Ministry officials urged that people replace lights with ones that contain labels verifying that they are safe. However, assuming that many people have already purchased and put up unsafe Christmas lights, the ministry obtained a list of safety recommendations from the Cuerpo de Bomberos.

Firefighters gave such recommendations as that lights should not be left on all night or unattended, they should not be covered by rugs, they should not be held up by nails or objects that may damage the wires, they should not be exposed to elements they are not meant to handle and they should not be combined with homemade electrical devices.

Christmas lights is only one small part of the survey. Ministry officials put far more focus on the prices of toys and ingredients for making tamales, finding that cost depends on both the brand and the retail outlet.

As with most of the ministry’s surveys that have come before, these results are unlikely to surprise any shoppers.

Ministry officials found that the same set of Fisher Price pyramid rings ranged 44 percent between the highest price of 6,500 colons at the Libreria Universal on Avenida Central and the lowest price of 4,500 colons at Cemaco Multiplaza. The best deals for board games like Pictionary and Jenga were at Aliss Zapote.

Analysts found an even wider range of prices between similar toys from different brands, as much as 1,268 percent between Barbie-like dolls (950 and 13,000 colons at extremes).

As for tamal ingredients, price differences on identical products between stores was more important for ministry officials. The cheapest stores to shop for tamale ingredients were overall the Mercado franchises, especially Mercado Cartago, Mercado Heredia and Mercado San José. The tamal, a dough baked and then reheated inside banana leaves, is a traditional Christmas dish.

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