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Study Regarding Air Lead Levels in Candles

Statement: JAMA Publishes Public Citizen Study Regarding Air Lead Levels in Candles

Lead Experts Join Public Citizen’s Demand for Banning Lead-Wick Candles

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is publishing a Public Citizen study indicating that burning lead-wicked candles can result in air lead levels in homes that are 10.1 to 36 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standard of 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter. At these levels, children inhaling lead from candles on a consistent basis could readily reach blood levels associated with behavioral and neurological problems. The study will appear in JAMA’s July 12 edition.

Drs. Howard L. Sobel, Peter Lurie and Sidney M. Wolfe, all of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, examined 285 types of candles from stores in the Baltimore-Washington area. Thirty percent contained metal wicks, and 10 percent of those contained lead. The measured lead content of the wicks was converted into air lead levels using calculus and was compared to the EPA standard.

On Feb. 24, Public Citizen petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to immediately ban and recall the millions of candles with lead wicks. Since then, more than a million candles with lead wicks have been sold in the United States. In 1974, the industry voluntarily agreed to stop using lead in candle wicks after a 1973 Public Citizen petition to ban them, but the industry resumed using lead in the late 1970s.

“This study underscores the CPSC’s irresponsibility and the need for immediate regulatory action, not more dilly-dallying and caving in to industry,” said Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

Since Public Citizen filed its recent petition, it has been supported by a number of prominent experts in lead toxicity, who filed the following comments with the CPSC:

  • Russel Train, administrator of the EPA during the Nixon administration: “The 1974 voluntary agreement has not proved effective. I strongly urge an immediate ban and recall. The twenty-five years since 1974 would seem to be ample time for the industry to take effective action.”
  • Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, director of the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and a senior advisor on children’s environmental health to the EPA: “I am writing now to urge [CPSC] to take strong and immediate action to ban all manufacture and import of leaded candlewicks in the United States. There is no defense for the persistence of this product. The industry has proven unable to police itself.”
  • Dr. Howard Hu, associate professor of occupational health at the Harvard School of Public Health: “I am writing in strong support of Public Citizen’s petition … to immediately ban and recall all candles with lead containing wicks. … I hope you will act expeditiously on Public Citizen’s findings.”
  • Dr. Barry Castleman, environmental consultant: “I am writing to agree with Public Citizen that there is no justification for the U.S. government permitting ANY fraction of lead to be present in candles. … There is simply no reason why the government should sanction the use of lead in any amount.”

In addition, in a letter to Public Citizen, Dr. Herbert Needleman, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, wrote, “It is now established that small amounts of lead can be brain damaging, and that infants and children have increased sensitivity to this poison. The only sane step is to permanently ban lead-containing candles from the market.”

In the time since the Public Citizen petition was filed, New Zealand has joined Australia in banning lead-containing wicks.

“These countries are leading the way in protecting their children from the well-known dangers of lead,” said Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Voluntary bans do not work. This has been proved once again by the CPSC’s failure to take appropriate regulatory action in this case.”

On April 21, 1997, President Clinton signed an executive order requiring all federal government agencies to account for the unique biological susceptibilities of infants and children when setting standards and regulations.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for the Clinton administration to, on the one hand, issue high-minded proclamations on child safety, while at the same time allowing lead, a known and preventable hazard to their health, to continue to poison them,” Dr. Wolfe said.

Read the JAMA report.
Read Public Citizen’s February 24th petition to the CPSC.