Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2000]
(WebMD) — When Cathy Flanders, 41, of Plano, Texas, started burning candles for their pleasant smell in the spring of 1997, it never occurred to her she could be poisoning her family.
Three years, a serious illness and a lawsuit later, Flanders has a lesson to share with anyone buying scented candles: Watch out for metal wicks.
Lead emitted by this type of candle is a serious health hazard.
"Candles are fast becoming one of the most common unrecognized causes of poor indoor air quality," says Diane Walsh Astry, executive director of the Health House Project, an American Lung Association education project in
The Flanders' woes started when Cathy was shopping at a clothing store and spotted some candles whose labels promised to fill her house with the pleasant fragrances of "winter" and "spring." Within six months of burning the candles, she noticed soot damage around her house. But Cathy didn't pinpoint the source of the problem until after Ron Bailey of Bailey Engineering in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, analyzed the Flanders' candles and discovered lead emissions.
Around that time, 11-year-old Andrew Flanders' grades dropped precipitously. His teacher wondered if he had attention deficit disorder. When blood tests revealed an elevated level of lead, the Flanders promptly sent him to live with his aunt. "The lead deposits in our home are such that we could not sell the house if we wanted to," says Flanders. As for the candles, the doctor ordered a total ban. Testing revealed the lead level in the Flanders' home to be
The Flanders aren't the only ones falling victim to pleasant-smelling candles with toxic wicks. Candle sales in general have skyrocketed in recent years, according to the National Candle Association in Washington D.C., from
Lead poisoning can lead to behavior changes and damage internal organs, especially the kidneys. Cathy's husband, Kip, had his gall bladder removed because of an illness he blames on the candles.
Nriagu measured the lead released from 14 brands of candles. He found that burning four metal-wick candles for two hours can result in airborne lead concentrations that pose a threat to human health. People with weak immune systems, including children and the elderly, are particularly at risk. "Besides breathing lead fumes, children can be exposed to even more lead that is deposited on the floor, furniture and walls because they often put their hands in their mouths," says Nriagu. After similar research in Australia, lead wicks in candles were banned there in September 1999. But despite the urging of experts like Nriagu, the candles are still legal in the United States. Not all candles — or even all scented candles — cause hazardous pollution. But since labels won't tell which ones are safe, Astry and other candle experts offer this advice:
Origins: The article quoted above appeared in the Alternative Health section of CNN's web site on
Flander's reasons for bringing suit were described thusly in March 1999:
The culprit, she believes: those holiday candles. Though her insurance company offered a partial settlement of $20,000 — covering everything from new carpet to replacing the ventilation system —
Flanders has become "a candle crusader" who runs a newsletter on indoor-air issues that is regularly
Whether or not Cathy Flander's claims about her son ring true, it can't be all that good an idea to burn lead-wicked candles. Lead is a nasty substance, and we're all far better off keeping our distance from it. Burning a material sets it loose in the air, and when that material is lead, a danger is created that goes far beyond that which existed when the lead was contained within a candle wick. Air inside a home is breathed by everyone who lives there, and airborne residue from a candle will land wherever it falls, likely on surfaces that will be touched by the home's residents. Lead from a little wick that no one handles can thus be spread around to the point that contact with it becomes unavoidable.
Most domestic candle manufacturers took lead out of their wicks in the 1970s, though the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 1974 didn't find it a health hazard. Concerns about the potential for harm continue to rage. In February 2000 the Public Citizen's Health Research Group asked the CPSC to immediately ban lead-wick candles and recall any that were still on store shelves.
According to the National Candle Association, the majority of wicks manufactured today in the U.S. are made entirely of cotton, with no metal cores. Those few wicks made with metal are typically zinc-core wicks. All of these wicks are safe, so there is no need to eschew metal wicks, just lead ones.
The National Candle Association says there is an easy way to test whether a candle has a lead core wick: Take an ordinary piece of white paper and rub it on the tip of an
Concerns about the effect of candles on health are not solely limited to worries about lead's being loosed into the air — some people have voiced apprehensions over potentially carcinogenic dyes and perfumes used in these products, and yet others fear the consequences of paraffin fumes, asserting "It is never healthy to breathe petroleum products." How valid these misgivings are is anyone's guess.
Barbara "candlepower" Mikkelson
| Candle Wick Q&A
(National Candle Association)
Brown, David. "Group Warns of Lead in Candles." The Washington Post. 25 February 2000 (p. A2). Tejada, Carlos. "Incensed by Soot: Decorative Candles Ignite a Crusade." The Wall Street Journal. 31 March 1999 (p. A1). Mealey's Litigation Report. "Texas Suit Over Lead Candle Wicks Seeks Class Status." 24 September 1999. [Minneapolis] Star Tribune. "Consumer Groups Seeks Ban on Candles with Lead in Wicks." 4 March 2000 (p. E3).