April 8, 2003
Ban on Lead-Wick Candles Will Protect Public, But Should Have Been Issued Decades Ago
Statement of Peter Lurie, M.D., Deputy Director, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group
The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s announcement yesterday that it would ban lead-wick candles, effective in October 2003, is a welcome action, but the commission has been far too slow to act. It has needlessly permitted public exposure to a known hazard for more than three decades and has been sluggish in moving forward, even after the commission voted unanimously more than two years ago to ban the candles and the candle and wick industries expressed support for a ban.
In 1973, Public Citizen petitioned the commission for a ban because of the toxic levels of lead these candles emit. Even then, the neurological dangers of lead were clear, particularly for infants and pregnant women. Yet the commission accepted a voluntary ban, which the industry was violating by the late 1970s. We filed a second petition in February 2000, noting the very high levels of lead emitted (10 to 36 times the air levels permitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), even when the candles are burned for a short time. The petition was based on our survey, later published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showing that candles with lead wicks were on store shelves in the Baltimore-Washington area. In December 2000, commission staff recommended that our petition be granted, but the relatively simple rulemaking has taken more than two years to complete.
The commission’s decision to act at long last will make consumers safer, but it is appalling that it did not do so decades ago. This history of unnecessary consumer exposure to a known toxin for decades bears graphic testimony to the dangers of supplanting needed regulation with unenforceable voluntary bans by industry.