This past Halloween, 2018, was the first time I had the chance to visit New Orleans! We were there to celebrate my best friend’s birthday, so Halloween in such a festive town was an added bonus. Hopefully next time I visit it will be for Mardi Gras. Unfortunately, that will not be this year. Maybe next time around I will be there instead of just writing about it. I will keep you all posted on that. Besides entertaining my curiosity about what Mardi Gras beads are made from, I also wanted to know where that tradition originated. It seems like at most parades or festivals all over the world, goodies like candy and trinkets are thrown into crowds. So, how did “Mardi Gras beads” become such a distinct novelty? Mardi Gras celebrations began around the 1830’s, typically taking place during Carnival season (January-March). Then in the 1870’s, sugar coated almonds became a popular treat for parade goers. They were thrown to those celebrating Mardi Gras. Bead necklaces were first noted at Mardi Gras following the trend of sweet almonds. These necklaces were first seen in the late 1800’s and were made of glass. These glass necklaces must have been a hit, because following into the 1900’s, other souvenirs like decorative plastic cups, frisbees, figurines, and toys became popular to give out and throw into the crowds during celebration. It’s a bit unclear at what point the bead necklaces were no longer made from glass and replaced with bright, colorful, plastic beads. Around the 1970’s the new trend was to throw coconuts out to Mardi Gras participants. However, there was a clear safety issue with throwing them. Because of this, in 1988, a bill was signed by government officials allowing coconuts to be handed out with the plastic necklaces. The trail of necklaces can be found along the parade route and the days following the celebrations.
Back in the 1970’s, Dr. Howard Mielke, an environmental scientist from Tulane University, played a role in eliminating lead from gasoline and now he also studies the impact of lead absorption in the human body and in the environment. He has documented and mapped the concentrations of lead in the New Orleans’ soil, and discovered the highest levels are found along the Mardi Gras parade route. The amount of beads left over from the parade every Carnival season equates to four thousand pounds of lead hitting the street. Think about the repercussions of all the beads left behind. It’s one thing to consider the exposure that everyone who handled and wore those beads had before and during the parade, but Dr. Mielke is concerned with the beads left behind. The potential exposure to heavy metals found in Mardi Gras beads could affect wildlife, domestic animals, and children who may pick them up or even eat them. In my research, I’ve found that there are at least six heavy metals found in these bead necklaces. Those metals include lead, mercury, bromine, arsenic, cadmium, and chromium. Not only can these be dangerous if ingested or absorbed into the skin, but should also cause concern for the environment, as these heavy metals can (and do) soak into the ground.
When I first met 5Strands Affordable Testing, I thought this technology was really fascinating (and I still think it is!). I was so intrigued to learn about my results from the Adult Deluxe test. The Deluxe test not only tests for food and environmental factors, but also indicates nutritional deficiencies, and minerals and heavy metals in the body. My test results showed that I had quite a few metals in my body! I was so alarmed, because I couldn’t imagine how that happened. My nutritional deficiency list was very short, and I have become very active in my health in the last few years. Anyone that knows me, knows that I am a nut about avoiding plastics and heavy metals. I have seen all of the documentaries about the risk of using metals and plastics in “normal,” everyday products (thank you, Netflix). It turns out, I had recently sorted and rolled my multiple coin jars. In fact, over three hundred dollars worth of coins. That could do it! Since then, I’ve detoxed my body of metals through plenty of activated charcoal, and cilantro in my drinking water and food.
In Mardi Gras beads specifically, I have found they contain quite a few metals. Although they are made of plastic (which I could do a whole other post about the plastic itself), we cannot forget about the paint and glazing that goes onto the beads. There is a company called Zombeads that recognizes this issue and makes beads using organic and biodegradable ingredients. The more people become aware of products we don’t necessarily think about as being dangerous to our health, the more we can make progress to help others and the environment. If you believe you may have a heavy metal issue or toxicity, we test for all of the metals I have found to be used in making Mardi Gras beads.
Enjoy Mardi Gras celebrations safely!