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Letter Concerning Delays Regulating Lead Wick Candles

Office of the Secretary
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Washington, DC 20207

Re: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Candle Wicks Containing Lead

We are gratified that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is continuing to move forward to ban lead in candle wicks, in accordance with the petitions our organizations filed with you in February 2000. These wicks are an ongoing, unnecessary source of lead poisoning and, as the candle and candle wick industries have themselves attested, there are many suitable alternative materials. We are particularly impatient to see this rulemaking concluded because one of the petitioners (Public Citizen) originally filed a petition with CPSC seeking a ban on these products in 1973, only to see it denied in the face of (unfulfilled) promises from industry to voluntarily cease using such wicks.

We are therefore concerned that objections by industry to the record-keeping requirements of the Proposed Rule might result in further delays, during which time the public, including pregnant women and infants, will continue to be exposed to lead. To address this, the industry has proposed inserting “tracer yarns” into the wicks so that each candle could be traced back to the spool of wick from which it originated.  (Units of candles for sale may contain wicks from different spools.)  Under the industry proposal, candlemakers could choose either to comply with this alternative or with the agency’s proposed scheme, in which candle producers would have to certify each shipped unit as compliant with the lead wick ban.

CPSC staff members have indicated to us that the addition of this alternative might force the agency to publish a new Proposed Rule in which the “tracer yarn” system would be described. A new Proposed Rule is, in our view, neither required by the statute nor in the best interests of the public health. 

First, the change in the regulation would be minor; the wick manufacturer’s suggested added language is only a single sentence long.  In our view this does not constitute a sufficiently substantial change to justify another round of notice and comment and the delay that will inevitably attend it. 

Second, the change does not diminish any party’s choices; rather it adds to the possible methods of assuring compliance. Thus no one is injured by the proposed change.  In particular, the proposed alternative would not have an adverse impact upon industry. Indeed, the alternative compliance option is one that industry itself has proposed.

Third, as the undersigned parties are those who initially petitioned the agency, setting this entire proceeding into motion, we are the parties most likely to object to this change. Yet we are not offering any objection. 

Fourth, there has already been ample opportunity for notice and comment. The public was invited to comment on our petitions, then on the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) and now on the Proposed Rule. These opportunities have yielded declining numbers of responses, starting from 138 on the petition to 11 on the ANPR to five on the Proposed Rule.  In each case, overwhelming majorities, including representatives of the candle and wick industries, supported the ban.  It is unlikely that any new notice and comment period will substantially alter the agency’s thinking on this issue.

After almost three decades of failing to ban one of the most notorious of hazardous substances from candle wicks, the time has come for final agency action. The public will be far better served by the agency’s immediately ridding the market of these unnecessary products than by drawing out the administrative process still further. The well-being of the public, particularly pregnant women and children, is at stake.

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

David Vladeck, J.D.
Public Citizen’s Litigation Group

Don Ryan, M.U.R.P.
Executive Director
Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning

Eileen Lee, Ph.D.
Vice President of Environment
National Multi-Housing Council