Millions of Dangerous Candles Sold Throughout U.S.

Feb. 24, 2000

Millions of Dangerous Candles Sold Throughout U.S.
Lead Wicks Pose Major Safety Hazard, Especially to Children

        WASHINGTON, D.C. — A significant number of dangerous candles are on the market that have wicks containing lead, which, when burned for three hours, can lead to average air lead concentrations ranging from nine to 33 times higher than recommended by federal guidelines, a Public Citizen study shows.

        The study, conducted by Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, examined candles purchased in the Washington/Baltimore area from stores, many of which are part of national chains. If the prevalence of candles with lead wicks found in the study is representative of the percentage of lead-wicked candles available nationwide, people are purchasing millions of candles a year that can cause lead poisoning in thousands of children and possibly adults. The dangers of these very high levels of lead in the air are compounded by the presence of lead dust from the candles, which can accumulate and be ingested by children.

        High air lead levels can easily elevate children s blood lead levels above the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention s and the Consumer Products Safety Commission s (CPSC) recommended ceiling. There is evidence from a large number of published studies that children with high blood lead levels can suffer significant damage to their central nervous systems, resulting in permanent deficits in intelligence (decreased IQ), abnormal development and abnormal behavior. There is also some evidence that even lower blood lead levels in children can be dangerous.

        As a result of the findings, Public Citizen is petitioning the CPSC to immediately ban and recall all candles with lead-containing wicks, candles in metal containers that contain lead, and wicks sold for candle-making that contain lead because they represent an imminent public health hazard. Continued sales of these items violates provisions of the Federal Hazardous Substances Act and the Consumer Product Safety Act, Public Citizen contends.

        Public Citizen in 1973 petitioned the CPSC to remove candles with lead-containing wicks from the market. However, in 1974, in lieu of a ban, the candle industry and the CPSC arrived at a voluntary agreement to immediately stop making candles with lead-containing wicks. Public Citizen s Health Research Group conducted the survey, however, because of reports that these candles were once again being sold.

        “Unless the Consumer Product Safety Commission immediately bans and recalls these candles, it will repeat the reckless and dangerous mistake made 26 years ago in trusting the industry to take care of the matter on a voluntary basis,” said Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen s Health Research Group. “How many more children will suffer lead poisoning before the CPSC fulfills its legal mandate to rid the country of this completely unnecessary source of lead poisoning? If the CPSC does not immediately ban and recall these dangerous products, we will seriously consider bringing legal action against the agency.”

        In the study, Public Citizen examined 285 candles in 12 area stores. Of those, 86 had metallic wicks. Surveyors purchased one of each type of candle with metallic wicks and had them analyzed by a certified laboratory to determine lead content. Nine candles — three percent of all candles and 10.5 percent of candles with metal wicks — had wicks with high amounts of lead, ranging from 33 percent to 85 percent by weight.

        Similar studies conducted in Michigan and Florida in the past two years also found that candles with lead wicks are readily available on the market.

        One country, Australia, recently tackled this problem. In September 1999, Joe Hockey, Australian minister of financial services and regulation, ordered a ban of all candles with wicks containing lead. He recognized that “Public health experts have confirmed that lead emissions from any source pose an unacceptable public health risk and can result in increased blood lead levels in unborn babies, babies and young children. . . . Public health experts have confirmed that the candles pose a risk to public health if burned in a confined space.”

        In 1974, Russell Train, then administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, stated that “Inhabitants of homes in which lead-wicked candles are burned could be exposed to substantial incremental quantities of lead which, if continued on a regular basis, would pose a significant risk to health, especially among children with already elevated lead body burdens. In my opinion, candles [with lead wicks] represent an unnecessary incremental source of lead that can be readily controlled.” He is still correct, Wolfe said.

        Wolfe strongly urges all people who have candles with metal wicks — obvious by looking at the tip of the wick and seeing a metal core — to return them to the stores where they were purchased for a refund. Because more than one out of 10 of the 86 candles with metallic wicks that we purchased and analyzed contained significant amounts of lead, it is risky to burn any candle with a metal wick unless one is certain it does not contain lead, Wolfe advised.

        Howard Sobel, M.D., M.P.H., a resident in preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins, is working with Public Citizen s Health Research Group and was the coordinator and principal author of the study and the petition to ban these products.