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Letter About Petition to Ban Lead Wick Candles

Chairperson Ann Brown
Commissioner Mary Sheila Gall
Commissioner Thomas Moore
Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814

Dear Commissioners Brown, Gall and Moore:

We are gratified that the staff of the Consumer Product Safety Commission has seen fit to recommend the action which should have occurred 27 years ago, when Public Citizen’s Health Research Group first petitioned the Commission: a regulation banning lead-core candlewicks. Such a ban would once and for all remove an unnecessary source of lead exposure and provide the Commission with the tools to take enforcement action against those who do not comply, including foreign manufacturers and distributors. However, we urge the Commission to adopt a regulatory timetable commensurate with the grave, well-documented health risks represented by lead-core candlewicks. Each day the Commission delays the process of finalizing your staff’s recommendation to ban lead-core candlewicks is another day of unneeded lead exposure for Americans, particularly young children.

Having concluded that lead-core wicks should be banned, the staff has proposed a three-step process to accomplish this: an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) followed by a comment period, a Proposed Rule followed by a comment period, and a Final Rule. This is a recipe for a delay of several years, particularly with a new administration in office. The comment periods should be as brief as possible under the law.

In response to our petition and that of the National Apartment Council and the National Multi-Housing Council, the Commission opened a docket on lead-core candlewicks on March 17, 2000. In the April 12, 2000 Federal Register notice announcing the opening of the docket, the Commission solicited “comments on the petition, particularly regarding the potential costs and benefits of the requested rule.” The Commission received comments from 142 individuals and organizations. All but one of these supported our petition. Not a single candle-maker nor the National Candle Association itself wrote in to oppose our petition. The public has thus already had a significant opportunity to comment on this issue.

The basis for a more expeditious rulemaking procedure is particularly clear given the well-documented briefing package prepared by Commission staff. This package contains answers to many of the questions posed by the ANPR (and the Commission’s Federal Register notice announcing the docket): regulatory alternatives, current voluntary initiatives, the epidemiology of lead-core candlewicks, the evidence regarding the toxicity of lead-core candlewicks and the economics of the candle and wick industries. It is not likely that additional information likely to have a material impact upon the Commission’s ultimate decision will be forthcoming.

As noted above, the industry itself is not opposing a ban. Indeed, the voluntary process begun by the American Society of Testing Materials is actually proposing a standard for lead contamination in tin- and zinc-core candlewicks that is more stringent than that proposed by the Commission staff (a 0.02% by weight cutoff for lead contamination compared to the Commission staff’s proposed 0.06%). All these factors, together with the grave risks presented by these candles, argue for the Commission to move as rapidly as possible.

The Commission staff’s report is silent on the matter of the recall of all metal-core candlewicks that was also the subject of our petition. We continue to believe that a recall is necessary because, in the absence of a ban on lead-core candlewicks (or until that ban is finally enacted), consumers have no way of determining whether a metal-core candlewick contains lead. Even if the Commission does not order a recall, we request that you notify consumers that they are best protected by not buying metal-wicked candles and, if they have already purchased them, not lighting them and returning them to the store from which they were purchased, unless there is clear evidence that they are free of lead. We also request that you write to all retailers urging them to not sell any metal-wicked candles unless they have been satisfactorily assured by the manufacturer or distributor that the candle is lead-free.

Yours sincerely,

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

Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D.
Public Citizen’s Health Research Group

Howard L. Sobel, M.D., M.P.H., M.S.
Department of Preventive Medicine
Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health