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Safety watchdog: Use beeswax or sugar instead of tin for New Year's Eve tradition

Finland is moving to restrict sales of tin to consumers because common alloys of the metal contain high quantities of lead, which the EU has classified as a dangerous substance.

Tinat sulavat valinkauhassa.
Much of the tin that people buy contains high concentrations of lead, which can have a detrimental effect on fertility and foetuses. Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

Finland's Safety and Chemicals Agency Tukes is calling on residents to use substances such as beeswax or sugar for a popular national New Year's Eve tradition.

On the last day of the year, many people in Finland turn to the tradition of melting tin and using the shape of the cooled metal to make light-hearted predictions about the year ahead, a custom known technically as molybdomancy.

However, officials are moving to restrict sales of casting tin because of its high lead content, which EU regulations have classified as dangerous.

"Sales of tin won't exactly be prohibited, but the New Year's Eve tin alloy very often has quite a lot of lead. In many cases it could even be mostly lead and it is sales of lead [in consumer products] that will be banned from March," explained Tukes unit chief Marilla Anttila.

Story continues after photo.

Kaksi tinahevosenkenkää.
Tin meant for New Year's casting comes in different shapes, often as horse shoes. Image: Yle

In the prelude to New Year's Day 2018, stores will still be allowed to sell tin that contains lead, but the products must be packaged and the packaging must display warning symbols. Anttila said that labels must also clearly indicate that exposure to lead can affect fertility.

"The most significant risks of lead are its effects on children's central nervous systems," research professor Hannu Kiviranta of the National Institute of Health and Welfare THL said in a Tukes release.

"Because tin is cast just once a year, the health risks are not great. However we are also exposed to lead daily in other ways that we cannot influence and children should not be unnecessarily exposed to leaded steam."

When tin is heated for the New Year's Eve custom, it can release lead which can then be easily inhaled.

"Under no circumstances should it be placed in the hands of children nor should you play around with it in the mouth," she cautioned.

The Tukes official noted that lead is also harmful to the environment and must be properly disposed of – users should not throw it out in regular household garbage.

The Tukes website provides guidelines (in Finnish) for using lead substitutes such as beeswax and sugar for the New Year's Eve fortune telling tradition.

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