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Ban Lead-Wick Candles

Letter on Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Failure to Ban Lead-Wick Candles

February 4, 2003

Hal Stratton
Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East-West Highway 
Bethesda , Maryland 20814-4408

Dear Mr. Stratton:

It is now three decades since Public Citizen’s Health Research Group first petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ban lead-wicked candles due to the toxic levels of the neurological toxin lead emitted by these products.  At that time, the CPSC opted for a voluntary ban, to which the industry agreed; by the late 1970s, the industry had reneged on that promise and had resumed the production of lead-wicked candles.  Consequently, on February 24, 2000, we filed a new petition seeking the banning of these hazardous products.  The CPSC opened a docket and requested comments on our petition.  On December 13, 2000, CPSC staff members recommended that our petition for a ban be granted.  Among the reasons for their recommendation were the very high levels of lead emitted by even brief burning of lead-wicked candles, the inability of consumers to distinguish between lead- and other metal-wicked candles, the failure of the previous voluntary approach and the fact that the industry favored a ban.  The Commission met on January 30, 2001 and, after hearing extensive testimony from CPSC staff, the three commissioners voted unanimously that our petition be granted.  On February 20, 2001, the CPSC published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on this issue, followed by a Proposed Rule on April 24, 2002.  During these three periods of Notice and Comment, very few new issues came to light and the overwhelming majority of some 150 commenters, including the candle and wick industries, expressed their support for the ban.

For a time, the rulemaking appeared to be proceeding forward, as reflected in the agency’s Unified Agendas.  On November 30, 2000, the issue was listed as being in the Prerule Stage; it was again listed this way in the Unified Agendas of May 14, 2001 and September 14, 2001.  In the May 13, 2002 Unified Agenda, it was listed as being in the Final Rule Stage.  The agency maintained this designation in the most recent (December 9, 2002) Unified Agenda and declared that the briefing package for the Commissioners would be forwarded for a vote by November 2002. This has not happened.

We are therefore alarmed that over two years have passed since the Commissioners unanimously approved the banning of these needlessly hazardous products without issuance of a Final Rule.  During this period, only two relevant studies have been published: one by Public Citizen in the Journal of the American Medical Association (the results were reflected in our petition) and another by scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, which reaches broadly similar conclusions.  There has also been no resistance to a ban from industry during this time.  There is therefore simply no excuse for any further delay.

In the time since we filed our second petition, we have been waiting as your agency moved slowly toward what seemed like an inevitable conclusion.  But with the current delay, we are forced to question whether the unanimous vote of the Commissioners two years ago will be honored.  We look forward to a prompt reply from you in which you indicate when we might expect the publication of a Final Rule.  In the alternative, we shall be forced to turn to the courts to ensure that consumers, particularly infants and pregnant women, are protected from a risk that even your own agency has declared unacceptable.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Lurie, M.D., M.P.H.  
Deputy Director
Public Citizen’s Health Research Group              

Alan Morrison
Public Citizen Litigation Group